The return of Naguib Sawiris to Egypt, along with the entire Sawiris Family, has raised some eyebrows on both sides of the political divide in Egypt, especially given that the Presidency sent a special envoy to welcome him back and hailed him as one of the “honest businessmen of Egypt” in an official statement. The complete and sudden change in Muslim Brotherhood rhetoric caused serious snickers amongst the secular camp all over social media (Can we call the Brotherhood “Sawiris’ dogs” now?), and left the non-Brotherhood Islamists fuming and frothing at their proverbial mouths. Many have openly wondered if a deal was struck, and if the price of return was the EGP 7bn settlement OCI agreed to pay, alongside with a promise to no longer be part of the opposition.
If there was such a deal or not is up for speculation and unlikely, but there are a number of facts that people need to get straight: Legally speaking, OCI was in compliance with the law and could’ve fought this in the courts and won, had they wished to; the case was against Naguib’s brother and father, and not Naguib himself; the settlement will be paid in 10 installments over a number of years, which means that-given the continuous devaluation of the Egyptian pound- it will be probably far less than the current $1bn price tag; the targeting of OCI, and the perception that it was political in nature, caused serious damage to both the Egyptian stock market and the appeal of Egypt for foreign investment; and Onsi Sawiris, the Sawiris’ family patriarch, loves this country deeply and is getting really old, thus would not want to spend his remaining years in self-imposed exile.
All of these facts, if taken together, produce a very logical narrative: This wealthy family decided to forgo a legal battle that they would’ve won, and pay money that they don’t legally owe to come back safely to their homeland, something that anyone who was ever in exile would do in a heartbeat. That’s all she wrote. But this is not the interesting part of this story. What’s interesting is the price that the Brotherhood has paid, and will continue to pay, starting with Naguib’s return.
In their first year in power, the Brotherhood learned a number of lessons. The first lesson was the most obvious one: they cannot run this country and succeed solely on their own or only with the aid of the Islamists as planned, because they don’t have the skill or understand how the government works. In an NYT interview with Gehad ElHaddad regarding the stalled Brotherhood Renaissance Project, he provided what is probably the only honest statement he made in the past year, when he said that they “miscalculated the power of the bureaucracy beast” and “that almost everyone has the power to stop anything by not putting pen to paper”. This is absolutely 100% true, and it’s what stalled countless investment and reform initiatives by Mubarak’s cabinet, and that was when Mubarak had absolute power and control of the state and had people who knew the system. The Brotherhood doesn’t know it, and thought naively that just by being in power; they would be able to do whatever they wanted. They are starting to know better.
Secondly, the Brotherhood are also starting to understand that their fantasies of revenge against their political or business opponents will have to be discarded immediately, since the price of carrying them out is literally too high for them to pay, as the aforementioned fact #4 points out. Egypt doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it needs secular technocrats and businessmen alongside the international community to survive, which won’t help them if they continue “governing” this way. Political and economic stability is a necessity for their survival at this point, and this won’t happen until they give up on the notion of becoming the new NDP, as they originally intended. They understand that they have to fix their battered reputation, and the return of Naguib is simply the first step in a long road of compromises they will have to make, and it’s happening already: the Presidency just waived all charges they filed against journalists and media personalities.
Finally, the Brotherhood now understands that alienating more than half of the country in order to maintain their alliance with the Salafis is not a viable long term strategy for survival, since the Salafis will continue to push them for more extreme positions than they would like and will always accuse them of selling out religion when they don’t comply. To put it mildly, playing Islamist politics is both counter-productive and ultimately dangerous, because it pushes you towards and lumps you with the extreme right when you would like to present yourself in the centre to placate the majority of the population and public opinion, both international and domestic. The presidential reception of Naguib and the Sawiris family- both anathema to the Islamists- means that the honeymoon between the Brotherhood and the extremists in the Salafi camp is over, and that the fight is about to begin in earnest, if it has not started already; many Brotherhood officials are publically demanding that Hazem Salah Abu Ismael “tone it down” and the ministry of religious endowments, which controls all mosques, has just banned him for giving speeches in Aasad bin AlFurat Mosque, which has been his base for the past few years.
To analyse what it could all mean and could lead to would take another article, so, quickly, here are a few things one should expect: 1)More settlement cases will be made by the government, opening the door for many of the businessmen who were in exile to return to the country once again, 2) The next Cabinet reshuffle –after the one happening right now– will bring in technocrats and old regime faces, with a strong possibility that it will include a neutral figure to replace current PM Hesham Qandil, both to reassure the population and have at least one competent person in charge of the executive, instead of the two incompetent ones we now have; and 3) The Islamists’ internal political war is about to start, and it will be one that will split and splinter it severely, with Al-Nour Party being ahead of the game as always. And last but not least, 4) there will be a price to saving this country economically, and what I just mentioned will be just the beginning. Have no doubt about it, everyone will pay.