Naguib Sawiris, founder of the Free Egyptians Party (FEP), will ask the legal representative of the party’s board of trustees to file a lawsuit against the head of the party’s parliamentary block Alaa Abed.
“Good morning. My first task today is to commission the legal representative of the board of trustees of the Free Egyptians Party to file an insult and libel lawsuit against Alaa Abed for his transgressions,” Sawiris wrote on his Twitter account on Thursday 9 February.
A day earlier, through the party’s press office, Abed issued a statement in which he made serious accusations against Sawiris and warned him of “playing with fire”.
The party took in Abed among dozens of independent members. A former police officer, Abed joined the FEP shortly before the parliamentary elections to help the FEP garner the maximum number of parliamentary seats, which the party eventually did. It came first in the parliamentary elections after winning 65 seats. The party then elected Abed as head of its parliamentary bloc.
“Party members are losing patience with Sawiris because his practices crossed a red line,” the statement said, adding that Sawiris no longer held legitimate power over the party. “If Sawiris believes that he is a financial and political power based on his foreign support, he has to learn and understand what is happening around him in Egypt. We have nothing to do with his tricks and our party is strong with its leaders, parliamentary bloc and structure. And if he believes he is capable of running an uncovered and expired propaganda machine, this game is exposed,” the statement said.
Abed threatened to release recorded phone calls between him and Sawiris, suggesting Sawiris was using help from abroad to back him and that he might face accusations of conspiracy against the Egyptian state as a result.
A liberal-oriented party, FEP has been one of Egypt’s most active in the last few years but has been suffering from internal disputes which have escalated apparently over preparations underway for elections in March to elect a new president and 50 members of the supreme body.
The ongoing dispute started in December when the party’s president Essam Khalil called for a general assembly in which party members voted to dissolve the party’s board of trustees that included the party’s founder and primary financial backer, business tycoon Sawiris, and also amended the party’s bylaws.
Consequently, Khalil held a press conference on 31 December announcing the approval by the party’s general conference members of amendments to the bylaws and the dissolution of the board of trustees, deemed the supreme authority of the party.
As a result, later that same day, the board described the move as a “coup” and issued a statement in response: “The general assembly’s meeting to amend the bylaws violates Article 59 of the bylaws themselves, which stipulate the board must approve any bylaw amendments.
“The board of trustees declares its full rejection of the illegal coup by those who claim to be working in the interests of the country, without realising that Egypt’s main project at this stage is to fully complete the democratic transition,” the board’s statement said.
The board also said it will pursue its legal rights via the party’s internal mechanisms and the Egyptian legal system.
In reply to one of his followers on Twitter at that time who asked whether the state had nationalised the opposition party as if it were an economic enterprise, Sawiris said: “Well said! Do not be sad when time has betrayed you because dogs have always danced on the bodies of lions. Do not think their dance gives them power, for dogs stay dogs and lions stay lions,” Sawiris wrote. In another tweet, Sawiris stated his recourse would be justice, saying, “Now we will have to resort to court… unless the judiciary also has been nationalised.”
On 10 January, lawyer Ragi Suleiman, who represents the board of trustees, announced in a press statement that a memorandum was submitted to the Political Parties Affairs Committee and that a lawsuit was filed proving the invalidity of the decision to dissolve the board.
Fifteen party members loyal to Sawiris issued a statement criticising Abed’s statement. They said that they would not let the “coup partisan group” control the party and would expose all their practices.
Mahmoud Al-Alaili, a member of the party’s board of trustees, said the message sent by Abed to Sawiris was expected. “Abed’s warning was expected for fear of what Sawiris will reveal during the party conference on Tuesday: details of the disputes within the party,” Al-Alaili said.
Sawiris was scheduled to hold a press conference on Tuesday in solidarity with party members and the board of trustees who were recently expelled for disagreeing with the party’s current leadership. Sawiris called on all current and former members who were prevented from renewing their membership to attend the conference.