Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1299, (9 - 15 June 2016)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1299, (9 - 15 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The balance sheet

Reem Leila on what President Al-Sisi said and did not say during a TV interview marking the second anniversary of his election 

Al-Ahram Weekly

On 3 June President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was interviewed at length by anchor Osama Kamal on state-run television. In the interview, pre-recorded and broadcast on some private satellite channels, Al-Sisi discussed several issues ranging from youth to mega projects.

The two-hour interview dealt with the challenges facing Egyptians as well as the administration since Al-Sisi became president in 2014 following a landslide election win. Kamal said Al-Sisi had not requested the questions be told to him in advance, thus helping to ensure openness and transparency, in contrast to traditional interview formats involving senior statesmen.

Some political, economic and human rights experts believe that Al-Sisi’s interview did not reveal anything new while others thought it fruitful and harbours high expectations and hopes for the country.

Al-Sisi discussed attempts by “forces of evil” to sabotage bilateral relations between Egypt and other countries whether Arab or Western. The president pointed out that Egypt sought to ink border demarcation agreements on Tiran and Sanafir islands to search for resources in the Red Sea and Mediterranean. He also indicated that some parties sought to exploit this issue to mobilise public opinion against the government.

“Egypt managed to contain the negative impacts of recent crises, especially with Italy and Russia,” said the president who confirmed that Egypt’s relations with the US are strategic.

Political analyst Hassan Nafaa said the president did not say anything new. “Al-Sisi did not identify who the forces of evil are. Are they internal forces composed of youths, doctors and journalists, or the Muslim Brotherhood who are in prison now? Or external forces represented in Qatar and Turkey?” Nafaa asked.

Regarding youths, the president said, “I never get upset by voices of youths which disagree with me, as long as the disagreement is for the sake of the country.

“I think youth are fully aware about what is happening around them, but I also need to warn them about social media websites. Sometimes the information being circulated on social media can mislead youths about public issues.”

The president also said that he is considering the situation of youths who are imprisoned and that he will see what can be done for them.

Hafez Abu Saeda, head of Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR), said that while he appreciated the president’s statement regarding youth, the authorities concerned had a different attitude. “We have submitted to the president as well as the presidency long lists of names of youths who are jailed but only a few were released,” Abu Saeda said.

Abu Saeda said the president did not directly address the tensions that have been escalating between youths and the police apparatus. Youths have shown concern about violations by the security apparatus and have repeatedly condemned attacks on their members by police personnel, including forming protests, partial strikes, and filing lawsuits to the prosecution.

Meanwhile, Abu Saeda said as long as the president instructs authorities to release jailed youths, they should abide by his instructions, however, he said they were not.

During the interview Al-Sisi said he wanted to provide youths with job opportunities and prepare them to be future leaders. He said the government had initiated an organisation to train youths to be tomorrow’s leaders. “Al-Sisi’s idea is great but the government should enforce this training programme in cooperation with various political parties,” said Abu Saeda.

“At the same time, the government alone should not be responsible for preparing youth to be tomorrow’s leaders. There should be cooperation between the government and political parties. If there is no cooperation or coordination, then we will move immediately,” said Abu Saeda.

“The president should guarantee the existence of political parties,” argued Abu Saeda.

Among other topics which the president discussed was the country’s economic concerns. Al-Sisi said the government managed to secure eight national projects which are being executed by more than 1,000 companies and almost two million Egyptian workers, although he warned that development in the education and health sector is unlikely for some time. “It will take between 12 and 13 years in order to achieve what we have in mind in education. The same goes for health,” Al-Sisi said.

“The cost of those projects is more than LE1.4 trillion so that’s why we’re being very cautious and getting in to details to avoid any corruption,” Al-Sisi said.

He also said the military was participating in these national projects through its own engineering authority, but only to monitor performance and make sure that the expenditure of those projects is wisely spent.

Youmn Al-Hamaki, professor of economics at Cairo University, was excited by what the president had to say. “The president is allocating a huge amount of money to spend on national projects which are important for the country’s economy. We have been calling for such projects for decades. Al-Sisi’s executing them in only two years is considered a great accomplishment and unprecedented,” said Al-Hamaki.

According to Al-Hamaki, geographical dissemination of these projects is very important. “Al-Sisi is spreading these projects all over the country and is not focusing on one part more than the other. He is initiating development projects in Upper Egypt, the North Coast, Lower Egypt and Sinai,” said Al-Hamaki.

Geographical distribution of national projects across the country, according to Al-Hamaki, is extremely important “so that all the country would benefit from such projects and the whole population would feel the efforts exerted by the president and the government”.

Al-Hamaki also believes that a divergence of national projects and their sites strengthen the country’s sources of energy. “International companies and experts are helping national companies and experts in executing these projects. Egyptian experts would benefit greatly from this cooperation as they would learn from the experience of foreigners,” she stated.

The president urged that Egyptians not be upset by the high cost of living and that “soon everything will be back to normal” while noting that the government is bearing 60 per cent of products and services presented to the public.

At the same time, Al-Hamaki said it was essential to reduce the country’s imports of goods and depend more on local product. “This will help lower escalating prices.

“The president has great ideologies which he talked about in previous speeches and interviews and could be forced to reduce prices, however the government does not have a clear plan to deal with this crisis,” said Al-Hamaki.

“We need a national strategy in which the government has a clear vision for solving the problems of high prices as well as unemployment. We have to encourage national industry and local agriculture. The government has to identify the actual reason for price hikes,” she explained.

Al-Hamaki agreed with the president that people must rationalise consumption. “I have recent reports on commercial chains revealing that people’s consumption of goods during the past two weeks before the holy month of Ramadan has been when compared to the amount of consumption during the same period last year,” explained Al-Hamaki.

According to Al-Hamaki people are participating in their own crises.

During the interview the president also spoke about the civil service law which overhauls the system of salaries, bonuses, and promotions across state institutions and authorities. The law, being discussed by parliament, has been heavily criticised by labour circles; it was the only one out of more than 300 laws to be rejected by parliament. This prompted immediate criticism from the president after his government strongly advocated for the law as an integral part of the government’s reformation plan. According to Nafaa, it is the parliament’s right to refuse or reject any project which it believes would be against the welfare of the people.

“Parliament must exercise its role without any interference from the president or the government,” said Nafaa.

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