Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1354, (27 July - 2 August 2017)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1354, (27 July - 2 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Challenges and choices

The fourth National Youth Conference reviewed the many challenges Egypt faces, writes Ezzat Ibrahim  

 

The fourth National Youth Conference
The fourth National Youth Conference

This week President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi inaugurated the Mohamed Naguib Military Base on Egypt’s North Coast and attended the fourth National Youth Conference, alongside 1,300 students and young professionals. This year’s round, hosted by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina on Monday and Tuesday, focused on the ambitious development plan “Vision Egypt 2030” and included presentations by representatives of concerned ministries.  

Al-Sisi spoke on the first day of the conference, and in an “Ask the President” session fielded questions from members of the public. He paid particular attention to the development needs of northern governorates and, during the opening of the Mohamed Naguib Military Base, reiterated earlier messages: that he is determined to steer Egypt beyond the current phase of economic correction; the fiscal turbulence through which Egypt is passing is an unavoidable result of past mismanagement and needs to be passed through to guarantee a brighter economic future; and that Egypt has no alternative, given conditions in the region, than to consolidate the strength of its Armed Forces and thus establish a credible strategic deterrent.

The fourth National Youth Conference witnessed a new departure as the president was bombarded with online questions. Predictably, many questioners were concerned about the economic situation, not least recent hikes in the price of food. Al-Sisi explained that past failures to address Egypt’s underlying economic problems had cast a long shadow and the country was now paying the price for that neglect. He said the government would do everything in its power to improve living standards and was working to ensure the economy was on the right footing to generate future prosperity. Much work on modernising Egypt’s infrastructure was already complete and economic indicators were moving in the right direction. One sign of this shift, he said, is that foreign reserves have risen to $35 billion, the level they were at before the 2011 Revolution and its aftermath drove tourists and foreign investors away.  

Al-Sisi said the government was continually assessing the impact of its economic reforms and formulating social protection strategies to ease the burden on those hardest hit. “The medicine is harsh,” said the president, “but its results are positive”.

“There are no longer any alternatives to the measures we are taking. The policies we have adopted are inevitable.”

In response to a question about expanding the social safety net Al-Sisi pointed out that the most recent measures announced by the government will cost LE85 billion and had been designed to ensure help went to those most in need. He also revealed that he had rejected the initial goal of the Solidarity and Dignity Programme, which was to target 1,750,000 people by the end of 2018, insisting that the date for the full roll out of the programme be brought forward.

“This is the maximum protection the government can offer,” he said.

In response to a question about recent disturbances on Al-Warraq, the Nile island in Cairo where residents clashed with police who had been instructed to demolish illegal buildings, Al-Sisi said the campaign of demolition would continue and structures built illegally on agricultural land had to be removed. Already, he said, almost two million feddans of land had been cleared but much work remained to be done given that illegal encroachment on public land is estimated at 140 million feddans. Al-Sisi added that Al-Warraq covers 1,400 feddans and if the state were to turn a blind eye to illegal building there it would have a devastating environmental impact since all sewage from the island flows directly into the Nile. He stressed, however, that as the campaign against illegal building continues ownership rights, as enshrined in the law and the constitution, remain sacrosanct.

President Al-Sisi also used the occasion to urge the public to vote in next year’s presidential elections. The result of the poll, he said, would determine Egypt’s future.

On foreign policy, Al-Sisi said Egypt remained committed to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states. He urged the international community to do more to tackle the problem of state-sponsored terrorism and promised that Egypt will not retreat from the battle against the terrorists. “Extremist ideologies,” he said, have shown time and time again that they are unviable because they collide with the normal development of humanity.

The president described Egypt’s demands concerning the battle against terrorism as legitimate. He vowed to maintain the blockade of Qatar which began in June when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic and other ties with Doha because of its support of terrorism. Qatar continues to deny its support of Islamist militants, and international attempts to contain the crisis are in full swing.

Within hours of Al-Sisi speaking the quartet of blockading states added nine organisations and individuals to its terror list.

On Saturday Al-Sisi inaugurated the Mohamed Naguib Military Base in Al-Hammam area west of Alexandria. The base, the largest in the Middle East, is built on a military complex first constructed in 1993. It now comprises 1,155 buildings and took two years to develop. The inauguration was attended by senior Arab officials. On the same day Egyptian forces announced 30 extremists had been killed during security operations in Sinai involving the army, air force and police.

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