A harsh smear campaign spearheaded by Arab nationalists and Islamists has been lately raging against business tycoon Naguib Sawiris. This is in response to opinions he dared voice against the rampant tide of Islamisation of every aspect of life in Egypt, and of according Arab belonging precedence over Egyptian identity. Last week, as the 31st Cairo International Film Festival—sponsored by Sawiris’ Mobinil—came to a close, allegations that Sawiris had turned the festival into a failure filled the Cairo media. It is hard to write in defence of a powerful or high-ranking person, not least because one is quickly accused of kow-towing to that person or trying to benefit from him or her, but I find it incumbent upon me to put matters straight.
It is no secret that the festival was riddled with many shortcomings. But was Sawiris as main sponsor responsible for them? When the invitations, intended for journalists, for opening night at the Cairo Opera House (COH) were not handed to them but were sold on the black market in front of the COH gate, rumours spread that Sawiris had distributed the invitation cards among his employees. When a Moroccan film was screened instead of the scheduled Italian film, or a Turkish film instead of a German one, it was said that the main sponsor was responsible. When the Mobinil brand name and logo were printed on all the festival publications and posters, which is standard practice concerning sponsors, it was claimed that this was Sawiris propaganda.
No mention whatsoever was made of all the positive achievements due to the sponsor. The excellent quality of the festival publications this year is unprecedented. To mention but a few, an excellent book was published on British film since Britain was the guest of honour of this round of the festival. A book authored by Tareq al-Shinnawi was issued under the title Years of laughter in the Egyptian cinema. Another 300-page book on the 20th-century top Egyptian comedian Naguib al-Rihani whose name was this year honoured was also issued. But this was met with the most absurd of the criticism against Sawiris; some genius came up with the idea that Naguib al-Rihani was honoured because Naguib Sawiris is his namesake.
I find the campaign against Sawiris vicious and unreasonable. Instead of smearing his name I believe we should be telling him “thank you, Mr Sawiris”.
Egyptians against discrimination
The Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination group recently issued the following declaration:
“The Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination group has been following with concern the campaign led by the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist salafi groups against Egyptian tycoon Naguib Sawiris.
Sawiris has come under fire because of his recent remarks about the spread of the Islamic chador-like veil in Egypt. Sawiris said walking through the streets of Cairo now reminded him of Tehran. Previously he declared that he intended to establish two satellite TV channels to challenge the “high dose” of religious and conservative programmes currently on national channels.
Following a careful scrutiny of Mr Sawiris’s words and the subsequent campaign against him, Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination has declared the followings:
1. This harsh campaign, which has reached the point of calling for the murder of Mr Sawiris, is using the sectarian dimension to settle accounts since Mr Sawiris is a Christian and also a prominent businessman, and because he gave himself the right to express his opinion on social issues in the community in which he lives.
2. It is the right of Naguib Sawiris, as well as any other Egyptian, regardless of religion, colour, gender, ethnic or political denomination, to express candid opinions on all the affairs of the homeland.
3. We applaud the interest and efforts of Mr Sawiris in the movement of enlightenment and modernisation of our society, and his participation in the ongoing cultural and social debate in Egypt. This movement, even if marred by the vociferous censure of some who embrace single-dimensional thought and, worse, by those who see enlightenment as a sin, will march straight on to attain its goal through wider participation of the children of the homeland.
4. We welcome Mr Sawiris’s enlightened initiative, which agrees with the principles of Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination, in upholding freedom of thought and belief, supporting the culture of citizenship rights, and putting an end to religious discrimination through the development of a civic, democratic structure of the Egyptian State. We, therefore, declare our consolidation with him in facing the harsh sectarian campaign which is dedicated, like any other hateful sectarian effort, to segregation, isolation, then finally to absolutely cutting off the other. This is sure to undermine the very foundations of the nation. We call upon all honourable citizens—intellectuals, enlightened businessmen, and all who are concerned with public affairs and the future of this nation—to support Mr Sawiris and adopt a clear attitude towards the challenge Egypt is facing from the religious hysteria employed by the fanatics and groups of darkness who are dragging this country into the swamp of sectarian sedition.
5. Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination invites all Egyptians who care for the future of their country to support the enlightenment convoy and help our dear Egypt, in this critical period, rise from its fall and steer away from the dark paths leading to an age of oppression.
Let us always debate with one another; we may agree or disagree, but we must remain under the one umbrella of love for our homeland, and aspire towards a better future for our children and grandchildren.