Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

A message of hope and perseverance

What will President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi tell the new parliament in his inaugural speech this week, asks Dina Ezzat

A message of hope and perseverance
A message of hope and perseverance
Al-Ahram Weekly

It will be the first speech by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi before the country’s new parliament and will probably take place either today (Thursday) or on Saturday. The speech, according to officials, will not be long but will be exhaustive in the sense that it will offer a presidential assessment of the country’s state of affairs, both abroad and at home, not just before the newly elected legislative house but also to the people as a whole.

“When the president took office, he was clear that he would do everything possible to help the country pick up, and today, as he said a few days ago, he feels that a great deal of work has been done. However, due to the overwhelming volume of problems there has been no real sense of achievement in public opinion about what has actually been achieved,” one official said.

While giving the go-ahead to some new construction projects, in a televised broadcast last Sunday Al-Sisi made what might be described as “frustrated” remarks about the cost of infrastructure and the state’s “inability” to continue subsidising basic services, including water.

“I want people to know that we are doing everything that can be done and we are trying very hard to do things that are very hard to do,” the president said.

Coming against the backdrop of a considerable increase in the prices of electricity, gas and fuel since Al-Sisi took office in June 2014, the remarks increased the level of speculation, or even outright scepticism, about the economic choices the state will make in the coming months and the cost that these will bring to bear on the country’s poor majority.

State officials say the president is going to explain before parliament the details and the figures of the economic situation and the “unavoidable need” for further cuts in subsidies in parallel with an increase in the customs charged on what the government qualifies as “luxury imports” and an effort to expand the volume of exports, direct foreign investment and tourism.

The president, according to the same officials, will also share with MPs and the people the “guidelines” behind his plans to create new job opportunities in the country while “trimming” the capacity of the state bureaucracy.

According to one MP who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly on condition of anonymity, the president has insisted that his speech come after agreement is reached between the government and the legislature on the adoption of the civil service law, which was passed prior to the election of the new parliament but was then knocked down in the touch-and-go revision that the legislators made of the almost 400 laws adopted in the three years when the country did not have a parliament.

The president has already expressed dismay over the rejection of the law. “The size of the state bureaucracy is seven million, of which I need only one million,” Al-Sisi said.

Despite the criticisms that the remarks have prompted from economists and development experts, who have reminded the nation that the bureaucracy includes key government services including education and health, already seen as insufficient by the public, the law “will be reworked and the reforms it stipulates divided into phases,” according to the same MP.

Meanwhile, officials have confirmed speculation earlier this week that the office of the prime minister will “bypass” the parliamentary debate over the loans that the state will have to pursue, starting with a loan from the World Bank.

In his speech, the president is expected to give an overview of plans to “pursue loans as part of a wider economic scheme in order to stimulate the economy and overcome the hard currency crunch” and its adverse effects on economic growth.

In doing so, he will ask for “patience” and “confidence” on the part of the public and will promise in return a considerable, if not fast, improvement in state services, infrastructure and economic performance.

It is a mixed message of perseverance and hope that the president is set to put across to MPs and public opinion this week, the officials said.

In the spring of 2014, as he was getting ready to take office following his election with an overwhelming majority, Al-Sisi said in an interview with the TV channel Sky News Arabia that he would “work with the Egyptian people to overcome the economic crisis in a couple of years”.

This grace period will expire in the middle of his term in office next June. However, in recent press statements the president has said he needs another two years to carry out his plans. And in statements published in the daily Al-Ahram this week, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said there will be a “major improvement” in the economic situation in a year and a half.

“Things are moving forward on many fronts, and the president will review achievements in detail when he addresses parliament. It has to be taken into consideration that the regional situation has deteriorated considerably during the past two years. The president is working against all the odds,” one presidential source said, avoiding a question about the apparent failure of the head of the state to live up to his promise of a major economic shift in the first half of his presidential term.

The president, according to the same source, will remind people in his speech that he never promised to deliver without the full support of the people. “He will probably also share some disappointments in the lack of support from certain quarters, including the business community, but I am not sure whether he will make a direct reference to entrepreneurs because he wishes to encourage people to be more forthcoming rather than more sceptical,” he said.

The president is also expected to offer an overview of the turbulent regional situation and the impact of this on the security interests of Egypt and also on the economy. He is expected to review the situation in Syria and Libya, looking particularly at the threat of terrorism, perhaps touching upon the war against militant Islamist groups with “maybe some references to the Muslim Brotherhood,” and the situation in Sinai and Egypt’s commitment to Arab national security, of which the security of the Arab Gulf countries remains an integral part.

It is unlikely, the officials who spoke to the Weekly said, that the president will go into detail about whether Egypt will join the current build-up of ground forces in Syria in a bid to end that country’s five-year conflict, or whether Egypt will embark on a large military operation in Libya, probably in partnership with the international community, to halt the expansion of the Islamic State (IS) group in that country.

The IS expansion, security officials in Egypt say, is a “growing nightmare” on the western borders of Egypt.

Under the heading of foreign relations, the Weekly was told, the president will present a positive take on Egypt’s relations with the rest of the world and especially with Africa, with an expected update on the prospects of negotiations with Ethiopia on the controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and the search for a win-win deal in which Egypt secures its water share and Ethiopia secures its power generation.

The president is also expected to stress successes in upgrading relations with countries like China and Russia “in parallel with the established relations that Egypt is furthering with the West”.

Responding to questions about human rights, the source said, “Such questions are offering unfair generalisations”. He added that the president will stress that “nobody is above being called to order on any violations, though this cannot undermine the important role played by the police in securing home stability”.

The source added that the president will re-reiterate his faith in the youth of Egypt as the locomotive for development and will call on the younger generation to join him in working for a better future.

“I don’t think the presidential inaugural speech before the newly elected parliament is the right venue to go into the details of specific cases, but the president might choose to make a few remarks on other issues,” the presidential source said.

The speech is expected to hail the new legislative assembly as the completion of the roadmap and the beginning of a new phase of state-building in which the authorities will “join hands to overcome problems that have been left unsettled for years, including a heavy legacy of corruption,” the source concluded.

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