“There is a real fear they will hijack (the movement) ... The problem with these people is they will say you want a democracy, fine, you get elected in a democracy. Then you get Iranian version of democracy where they shoot their own people,” said Naguib Sawiris, speaking to Fox News from his 26th-floor Cairo office at the Nile Towers complex.
Sawiris was the first and only of Egypt’s top business leaders to support the revolution -- at great personal risk. He is now trying to broker a solution between the protesters demanding President Hosni Mubarak leave office and the president who refuses to step down before his term ends in September.
Mubarak has said leaving now would leave the country he has ruled for more than 30 years in "chaos," something Sawiris agrees on. “He can stay to the end of his term. Meanwhile, we work on getting the democratic rights. If they don’t give us the rights, we go back to the streets,” Sawiris said, explaining his plan to have protesters leave Tahrir Square in exchange for the immediate implementation of meaningful reforms.
Sawiris dismissed a recent move by Mubarak to offer government workers a 15 percent pay raise insulting, saying, “That’s a bribe. That’s a bribe. That’s not a concession; that’s the old way …What we want is very clear: real democracy.”
Sawiris believes countries like Iran, Syria and Qatar are looking to destabilize Egypt and turn it into another radical Islamic state. The longer the protesters stay in the streets, he argued, the easier that becomes.
Sawiris discussed a scenario where a group of extremists throwing a single Molotov cocktail at a tank in the square could set off a cascading series of events that could send the country into turmoil. “It’s a real fear … Egypt should never be a religious country,” he said, noting he and others would fight to the death to keep it from going that way.
He also noted that it was possible for him to be taken in by Egypt's feared secret police.
That was the case with Wael Ghomin, the Google executive turned protest leader, who was arrested and held incommunicado for 12 days.
“What’s the guarantee it can’t happen to me? You think because I am rich guy? It can happen to me.”
When the protests began, Sawiris, a Christian billionaire who owns everything from hotels and construction companies to cell phone and investment interests, was out of the country. He chose to return, unlike other businessmen who have already fled.
“I came back because this was not a revolution of the Muslim Brotherhood.
This was the young people of Egypt doing what we failed to do … There is not a single other businessman who has supported it because it's very dangerous for their interests; but the country is in a position to be or not to be,” he said.
Sawiris is also one of the most respected businessmen in the country. Looters and rioters have burned many businesses in Cairo, including a large mall complex next to his towers, in the course of the uprising. They didn’t touch Sawiris' offices.
He is doing this for his kids, he says, because he wants them to live in a democratic Egypt. And he doesn't seem concerned about how his support for the protesters will affect his business.
“There is no price for freedom.”