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Egypt's Bloomberg Outlasts His Islamist Enemies

CAIRO -- It wasn't long ago that Egypt's second-richest man was being publicly shamed by his political enemies in the Muslim Brotherhood. So you might think that Naguib Sawiris would never want to see the Brothers back in the seat of power again.

Yet Sawiris, an Egyptian businessman and founder of the liberal Free Egyptians Party, says he wants to get Mohamed Morsy's clique back into politics, ASAP. He's also pressing his family to sue for the $1 billion that they feel the Morsy administration unfairly took from them.

"First, [the new government must tackle] national unity and national reconciliation. We need to reach out and get the Muslim Brotherhood back into the political game without any violence," he told Foreign Policy. After that, it will be a matter of getting Egypt's economic house in order: "[W]e need to confront our people with the truth of our economy -- we need to tell them that Egypt is broke, and we cannot continue the subsidies [on energy and food]."

Sawiris was one of the businessmen hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood who was targeted by Morsy during his time in office. The then-president singled out his family by name in an Oct. 6 speech, saying that they owed over $1 billion in back taxes. The Sawiris-owned firm eventually agreed to pay the government; Naguib, however, said that he opposed paying from the beginning and was overruled by his father and brother. Now, he believes his family should challenge the case to prove that it was politically motivated.

"I'm trying to tell my dad and my brother that they should sue and get the money back, and they should donate the money to Egypt. Then it's cleaner -- because we need to show that there is no tax case to start with ... it was blackmail, you know," he said.

Sawiris has already been successful in altering the political playing field. He said that he has been active in supporting the Tamarod movement, which gathered millions of signatures for a petition demanding Morsy's exit from power and was integral in organizing the massive June 30 protests against his rule. Through a spokesman, Sawiris later clarified that his support involved his personal signing of the call for Morsy's resignation, and using the Free Egyptians Party branch offices and members to collect signatures for the petition.

Nor does the Egyptian businessman see any contradiction between the liberal, democratic values he espouses and the ouster of an elected president. "There is democracy and then there are the rules of democracy. You might be elected democratically, but this doesn't give you the right to overrule democratic rules," he said, citing Morsy's November constitutional declaration granting himself sweeping new powers, and his appointment of a sympathetic prosecutor general that pursued legal cases against his opponents.

Whether Egypt's secular forces can turn Morsy's missteps into popular support is still an open question. But for the moment, Sawiris believes that his side has the wind to its back. "You can be sure that Egypt's liberal, secular people are democratic. You can be sure that we are going to fight to implement the right steps -- army or no army," he said. "You can be sure that this was not a military coup, because it would be the first military coup in history where 30 million people go to the streets and demand the president to leave."

ABDULQADER SAADI/AFP/Getty Images

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How Twitter Explains Egypt's Bloody Politics

As Egypt's political crisis has swelled in recent days, key actors ranging from ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsy to the opposition Tamarod movement have taken to Twitter to stake out their positions in the conflict. Now, a team of researchers is mining hashtags on the microblogging service to monitor those very tensions.

Starting with a set of Egyptian Twitter users who self-identified as either secularists or Islamists, the researchers -- Ingmar Weber and Kiran Garimella of the Qatar Foundation's Computing Research Institute (QCRI) and Alaa Batayneh of Al Jazeera -- tracked the repetition of hashtags and how closely they were associated with one group or another. For example, Weber told Foreign Policy by Skype from Doha, everyone uses the hashtag #FF, or "follow Friday," which gives it a neutral polarity rating on their Political Polarization Index. #Coup, on the other hand, has been favored by jilted Islamists over the past week, while liberals prefer #revolution. Here are some other examples of polarized hashtags:

 

The researchers then plotted polarization over time, crunching the data for 17 million Egyptian tweets (the higher the number on the y-axis, the more polarized Egyptian Twitter users are).

 

The chart above shows the level of political polarization among Egyptian Twitter users from March 2012 through July 3, 2013. That first peak, in April, coincides with violent protests over military rule, the second with Egypt's constitutional crisis in November. Starting about a month ago, you can see a crescendo of polarization leading up to the Tamarod protests on June 30.

The big question looming over the study is whether the data could have foreshadowed the contentious and, at times, deadly protests that erupted across Egypt over the past week and a half. As Patrick Meier, the director of social innovation at QCRI, wrote on his blog, iRevolution, "this index appears to provide early warning signals for increasing tension." Weber, who worked on similar projects tracking online trends during the 2012 presidential campaign in the United States, said he'd like to see the model applied to other countries experiencing political upheaval.

Finding the right formula for turning social media into a crystal ball is a growing field of study (in March, for instance, Businessweek reported on research underway at Sandia National Labs to cull predictive data from the Internet). And while Weber is quick to point out that QCRI's Political Polarization Index doesn't predict events, it can demonstrate when tensions are running high -- and when things are most likely to escalate.

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images