Globalist of the Year
Past President of the Canadian International Council (CIC).
The Arab Spring began with revolution in Tunisia in January 2011 – but while the Tunisian revolution sparked great interest among those who follow international affairs in that region, the Arab Spring did not compel the world’s attention until protest and revolt overtook Egypt, leading to the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year-long regime in just 18 days. Egypt’s military took control of the country, and in March a referendum that paved the way for elections later this year was approved by a record number of voters. In August the world witnessed live on television an autocrat brought down by his people, as Mubarak stood trial on charges of corruption and killing of protesters.
Naguib Sawiris is an Egyptian businessman as well as a political activist. He was the executive chairman both of Wind Telecom and Orascom Telecom Holding until May, 2011, when he announced his decision to enter Egyptian politics. Mr. Sawiris has founded a new Egyptian political party, Al Masryeen Al Ahrar, meaning the Free Egyptians, with the goal not to become a political leader but to “play a role in the transformation of post-revolution Egypt into a civil democracy.” Under Mubarak’s rule corruption was rampant, and much of the country’s business elite worked to defend the ruler who protected their interests. Mr. Sawiris, however, publicly supported the Tahrir Square protestors, as he told his own Coptic spiritual leader that religion should stay out of politics in Egypt.
In 2001 Mr. Sawiris founded the Sawiris Foundation for Social Development, which promotes job creation and improved health care in Egypt, while providing scholarships and student training on human development issues. Mr. Sawiris’ career as a business leader in telecommunications also illustrates his commitment to political liberalization – the Orascom mobile network, with over 100 million subscribers across Africa, the Middle East and Asia, has become symbolic of democratic freedoms in these regions.
Egypt has always been a strong force in the Middle East due to its central geographic location, its size and its historical importance. Nevertheless, the country remains politically and economically fragile, and the prospect of elections later this year has sparked debate among key groups about the correct path for the new government. The essential question will be whether this new government can create opportunities for its young population and foster overall economic growth through attracting foreign investment and trade in a country that suffers from an illiteracy rate of 34%, where 22% of the population lives below the poverty line.
With the support and example of citizens such as Mr. Sawiris, Egypt’s protests brought with them the hope that revolution in Egypt could mean success for other social movements that would lead to democratic reform and increased prosperity in the region.
In November the CIC will honour Mr. Sawiris’ contributions to Egypt with our Globalist of the Year Award. We eagerly anticipate the Globalist of the Year Award Gala, at which Mr. Sawiris will speak about his country’s potential to transition to civil democracy.
For further comments on Naguib Sawiris and the Globalist of the Year Award, see Bessma Momani’s piece in The Huffington Post.
Photo courtesy of Reuters.