Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1316, (20 - 26 October 2016)
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1316, (20 - 26 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

‘Stand together’

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s interview with Egypt’s national newspapers this week aimed at calming worries about the country’s economic reform programme and shed light on several national and international issue, reports Sherine Abdel-Razek and Reem Leila

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Al-Ahram Weekly

In less than two months, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi provided editors-in-chief of state-owned newspapers Al-Ahram, Al-Akhbar and Al-Gomhouriya a lengthy joint interview. The first part was published Saturday while the second was on Sunday. The president talked about government reform measures, the army’s role in reform and the fight against terrorism, as well as the media and recent calls for protests. Al-Sisi also presented his views on Egypt's foreign affairs, the battle against corruption and the role of youth and political groups.

Al-Sisi said Egypt was recovering from a long and chronic disease. “We are in the bottleneck and we are on our way out, but if we want to get out we have to take tough decisions, tolerate these decisions and be patient. The results will be great for the days ahead and future generations.” He said he had known Egypt’s cure since even before he was elected president and stressed he was open and honest with the people from the very beginning.

The president dismissed recent calls for a protest to be held on 11 November against sky-rocketing prices, corruption and authoritarianism, saying that Egyptians are well aware of the conspiracy against them, will not be deceived by the “forces of evil” and that any attempts by foreign forces to incite Egyptians to revolt will fail.

Political analyst Hassan Nafaa said that during each interview, the president mentioned the “forces of evil” but did not identify who these forces were. “Are they internal forces of youths, doctors and journalists, or the Muslim Brotherhood who are in prison, or external forces represented in Qatar and Turkey?" Nafaa asked.

Nafaa said Al-Sisi did not say anything new. “People need to hear new information, not recycled words.” He said Al-Sisi was adopting the same policies since he came to power in 2014 which resulted in the current crisis.

“Egypt is going through a serious crisis and the current regime is part of this crisis,” said Nafaa.

Activist Hafez Abu Saeda, head of Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR), said that when Al-Sisi was running for president, he vowed it would take him only two years to achieve significant progress, however, more than two years into his presidency, Egypt is still experiencing severe problems on several levels.

“Although the president has realised several national projects — factories, housing for youth and for slum dwellers — there is lot more to be done,” said Abu Saeda. “What has been done is not enough. The president wants people to be patient for two more years but people are fed up and tired. Many of them might not be able to wait that long.”

According to Abu Saeda, the president should do things quicker to calm people down.

In the interview, Al-Sisi said the army was playing an “eminent” role in the country’s development, a role that will be scaled back once the infrastructure and rehabilitation projects are complete. “The Armed Forces are capable of and qualified to protect the country against any threats to its safety and security... and are capable of protecting Arab national security,” Al-Sisi stated.

On Egypt’s recently acquired Mistral aircraft carriers from France, the president said Egypt has gas fields 200 kilometres from its shores that will be protected by the Mistrals.

On the fight against Islamist militants in North Sinai, Al-Sisi said the situation was improving and security efforts were ongoing. Hundreds of security forces in North Sinai have been killed in attacks by Islamist militants since the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Egyptian security forces say they have killed hundreds of militants in North Sinai during the same period. “The war is long, terrorists are improving themselves, and we are improving our operations,” Al-Sisi stated.

Al-Sisi blamed the media for confusing people by publishing inaccurate information. “There is no media content currently in existence that represents the real situation in Egypt,” Al-Sisi asserted, adding that some outlets and social media platforms paint the country as a frustrated state that will demolish hope. “No state or citizen can live without hope.

“Some people publish news which is not in the interest of the state and its national security, but is based on wrong information and a narrow vision,” Al-Sisi said.

Regarding social media networks, Al-Sisi said that he had already tackled the issue, and that many forget that these platforms can be used by foreign entities to destroy the state. In April 2016, Al-Sisi said during a speech that he could shut off access to social media pages with two web brigades and reopen them to disseminate whatever information he wanted. The warning was given after the circulation of satirical information that the state deemed negative.

Awatef Abdel-Raman, professor of mass communication at Cairo University said the role of the media was to enlighten the public and help raise awareness regarding national issues. According to Abdel-Rahman, the president believes that regular interviews could help calm people down and decrease tension. “It also creates an emotional bond between him and the people. Talking frequently with people is something essential to help them understand they are the president’s top priorities,” said Abdel-Rahman.

“There should be a courageous, accurate and honest media. If any society does not take its media seriously, then the media will not be able to protect society,” she said.

In the wide-ranging interview, Al-Sisi said he was following closely ongoing talks at youth centres across the nation in preparation for a youth conference to be held in Sharm El-Sheikh.

The conference is expected to include more than 3,000 participants from Egypt's various political groups. Al-Sisi said it will be a good opportunity to discuss the criticism that Egypt's parties and political groups play a weak role.

Al-Sisi also stressed the government’s role in fighting corruption. "The country is not at all tolerant with corruption… I support all governmental institutions that are concerned with the issue and we have no stake in covering up corruption. We are fighting a relentless battle against corruption.”

Again, the president criticised the media for publishing "inaccurate" estimates of corruption.

Egypt’s top auditor Hisham Geneina was sacked in March by a presidential decree hours after prosecutors accused him of making false claims about widespread government corruption. Geneina told media outlets that Egypt lost LE600 billion between 2012 and 2015 due to government corruption. Prosecutors charged Geneina with exaggerating the figure.

Al-Sisi also urged the public to "stand together" and warned of overpopulation which he described as the “biggest danger”.

According to Hazem Hosni, a professor of political science at Cairo University, the president has started taking bigger strides towards the country’s welfare but still needs to be more transparent to help people understand what is going on.

Defending Egypt's stance regarding the war in Syria, Al-Sisi explained Cairo's UN Security Council vote in favour of two resolutions to end fighting in Aleppo, stressing that the vote had not affected relations with Saudi Arabia.

Egypt, which represents Arab countries on the 15-member council, voted on a French-drafted resolution and a rival Russian proposal that would have scaled down military action in Aleppo.

"The common denominator between the two resolutions is that they both call for an end to fighting and the sending of humanitarian aid to the people of Syria… that is what we care about... that is why we supported and voted in favour of the two resolutions," Al-Sisi said, stressing that the two votes were not contradictory as critics suggested.

He rejected the idea that Egypt's vote for the Russian resolution had affected Cairo's relations with Riyadh. “Strategic relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia are not affected by anything and we should not allow anything to harm these relations,” the president insisted.

Saudi Arabia has supported Cairo with billions of dollars in aid, grants, oil products and cash deposits to buoy the country's economy following the toppling of Morsi in July 2013.

In the interview, Al-Sisi rejected any “plots against Ethiopia,” responding to statements made last week by Ethiopian officials claiming that Egypt and Eritrea directly support anti-government demonstrations by the Oromo ethnic group. “We do not interfere in any country’s internal affairs and we do not plot against anyone.”

On relations with Russia, Al-Sisi said that efforts are ongoing to resume Russian flights to Egypt. Russia suspended all flights to Egypt after a Russian plane leaving Sharm Al-Sheikh crashed in Sinai in October last year in what was a suspected terrorist attack.

The president stressed that relations with Russia are "strong and exceptional," adding that talks regarding the nuclear power plant deal are being concluded and are expected to be finalised by the end of the year.

In November last year, Sergey Kiriyenko, the head of Russia's state-owned nuclear firm Rosatomalong, along with a Russian delegation, signed the Dabaa nuclear plant deal with the Egyptian government.

The plant, to be built in the Western Desert, is expected to finish within 12 years and will consist of four nuclear power units, 1,200 megawatt each. Al-Sisi has frequently stressed that the project is peaceful and aims to produce electricity.

On relations with China and India, Al-Sisi said the two support Egypt and plan to cooperate in business and technology. On Greece and Cyprus, the president said last week's trilateral presidential meeting in Cairo confirmed their cooperation in combatting terrorism and illegal migration.

Hosni said Al-Sisi’s statements were “very decisive”. He described Al-Sisi as “the godfather of Egyptians” and said that his discourse was “like putting poison in honey. He knows people are suffering from corruption, but is asking them to have hope. People need and want to see swifter improvement. He is giving people sedatives," Hosni said.

Hosni said the president is working hard in the international arena to regain Egypt’s respectable image among the world. “It is evident that the president, unlike his predecessor, is leaning towards the East more than the West. He is finding new channels for Egypt to help it meet its current challenges.”

Hosni said it was vital to attract people's attention to the importance of changing the country’s new policies. “There are attempts made by certain sectors to cause disagreement between Egypt and other Arab countries and between Egypt and foreign countries. The president had to tell people this to raise their awareness in order to end it before it gets bigger. People have to support the president on his new course, understand it and be aware of it.”

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