Sunday,24 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1378, (25 -31 January 2018)
Sunday,24 February, 2019
Issue 1378, (25 -31 January 2018)

Ahram Weekly

‘The story of a nation’

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi announced his intention to run for a second term, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

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President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has announced he will stand for a second term in the upcoming presidential election. The announcement came at the end of “The Story of a Nation”, a three-day televised conference which listed the achievements of Al-Sisi’s first term as president.

At the closing session on Friday, Al-Sisi said he hoped the public would accept “my nomination for the post of the president of the republic for another presidential term”.

“If you appreciate what I did for this country, please turn out to vote for the candidate you favour so the world can witness Egypt’s experience which began in 2011,” Al-Sisi said in the televised speech.

“Please complete this experience by turning out to vote and send a positive signal to the world.”

The three-day presidential election is set to take place between 26 and 28 March. Candidates are required to submit the required paperwork to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) between 20 and 29 January.

Al-Sisi said “The Story of a Nation” conference provided a real opportunity for him to review the achievements of the last four years. “Let me on this occasion pay a special tribute to Egyptian women who have made a lot of sacrifices, and also express my appreciation for Al-Azhar and the Coptic Church which both raised the flags of peace and national unity over the last four years.”

The conference was held not just to present a balance of achievements, said the president, “but because I believe in dialogue and constructive debate”.

“Listening to each other will help us face the challenges ahead. Dialogue provides decision-makers with different options from which to choose.”

Al-Sisi said the conference was in many ways a continuation of “The People Ask and the President Answers” initiative which allows citizens to pose questions on issues directly related to their lives.

The initiative, launched between 10 and 15 January, attracted 222,180 questions.

“The number of questions reflects the keenness of citizens to access the facts on all issues,” said Al-Sisi.

“When people elected me four years ago I vowed that I would work day and night and spare no effort in seeking benefits for this country,” Al-Sisi told the conference.

“When I decided to run four years ago I did not seek power, and again I say it, I do not seek power. I want to sacrifice myself for the nation and its people.”

In “The People Ask and the President Answers” session on 19 January, Al-Sisi urged people to vote for “the candidate who deserves to be your president”.

“Please, when you come to vote think carefully because your vote will decide the future of your children,” he said.

Flanked by young people, cabinet ministers, government officials, economists and bankers Al-Sisi answered questions during the session on the war against terrorism in North Sinai and on Egypt’s foreign policy.

He said the army has not destroyed any houses in North Sinai from which shots have been fired at security forces and that “if someone is killed accidentally we compensate, even though there is never any adequate compensation for a life.”

Arish Airport in North Sinai must be operational all the time, Al-Sisi said, adding that a “safe zone” will be established around the airport.

“The coming operation in Sinai will be fierce as we deal with merciless terrorists,” he warned.

“We have no option but to use brutal force to rid Sinai of terrorism.”

The state, he revealed, is currently providing aid to 13,000 people injured in terrorist attacks.

On foreign relations, the president said Egypt had been isolated following the 30 June Revolution in 2013 which ousted the Muslim Brotherhood, a reference to the suspension of Egypt’s membership of the African Union following the removal of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

“We needed to restore our role in Africa and resume our relations with Europe, this was the people’s will,” he continued.

Referencing “interference by outside organisations” during the period from 2011 to 2013, he said preserving the state had been his most important goal.

On the building of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, over which Egypt and Ethiopia have been at loggerheads, the president said that Ethiopia is entitled to development and electricity “but our share of water must not be touched”.

On the domestic front, Al-Sisi said accusations of inefficiency directed at parliament, which was elected freely, were “improper”.

He stressed the importance of stable state institutions which had been threatened during recent revolutions.

“State institutions, if destroyed, cannot be rebuilt,” the president said. “When I was elected I stated clearly my first task would be to ensure the foundations of the state stable and strong.”

Responding to questions that the army had resorted to violence in removing the Muslim Brotherhood from power and in dispersing their sit-ins in public squares Al-Sisi said “the Muslim Brotherhood resorted to violence first.”

“After they were removed from office on 3 July 2013 we let them continue their sit-in in Rabaa Square for 45 days. Many people tried to mediate in order to avoid a forced dispersal, especially during the holy month of Ramadan, and I agreed… They thought I feared the Americans, but they were wrong because I fear God, not the Americans.”

On the first day of “The Story of a Nation” on 17 January President Al-Sisi presented a balance sheet of achievements. He said 11,000 national projects had been implemented in the last four years, costing LE2 trillion.

The government, he continued, was working hard to solve the problem of slum housing.

“A total of 600,000 housing units worth LE100 billion have been constructed and roads and bridges have been built at a cost of over LE85 billion,” said Al-Sisi.

The energy generation capacity of the High Dam in Aswan has been increased 12-fold, and total energy production increased eight-fold.

Al-Sisi argued the economic reform programme, which began in 2014, has already succeeded in improving economic indicators, with unemployment falling from 13 per cent in 2014 to slightly less than 12 per cent in 2017.

Al-Sisi thanked the Egyptian people for their patience in dealing with the impact of the reforms, saying “what has been achieved is not the accomplishment of the government or its leaders but of the people who bore the burden of hunger and thirst with patience”.

“The economic reforms had been delayed for 40 years. If I had not done them I would be betraying you, which I will never do.”

The president highlighted how the government has expanded aid to poorer Egyptians, raising allocations to the Takaful and Karama social solidarity programmes by 30 per cent and pensions by 15 per cent, and pointed to the success of the government’s campaign against hepatitis C.

On the war against extremists, he said the people had confronted the forces of terror with courage, and praised the sacrifices of the Armed Forces and the police.

“We have laid the foundation for building a modern, democratic society.”

Regionally, he said “Arab Spring revolutions were hijacked by the forces of evil in the name of freedom, democracy and religion”.

“Losses in Syria, Yemen and Libya are estimated at 1.4 million people killed and injured, 15 million displaced, and nearly $900 billion in damage to infrastructure.”

On Egypt’s foreign policy Al-Sisi said: “Four years ago, after the 30 June Revolution, Egypt’s membership of the African Union was suspended. Today the country is back playing its rightful role on the continent.”

“Thanks to Egyptians, no one can exert pressure on Egypt. Its decisions stem only from the will of its people. Egypt has regained its rightful international position and maintains sovereign, independent positions on all issues.”

On 18 January, the second day of the conference, Al-Sisi continued with his presentation of the achievements of his administration, focusing on improvements in infrastructure and energy supply.

Infrastructure projects have generated thousands of jobs, said the president, and the fuel and electricity shortages that plagued the country in recent years have been resolved.

He drew attention to the construction of the Ring Road connecting Cairo, Giza, Qalioubiya, Menoufiya and Sharqiya which is scheduled to be inaugurated on 30 June.

The president noted that production of natural gas from Egypt’s giant offshore gas field Zohr had initially been slated to begin in 2019, but he had pressed for a start date of December 2017. There had been no earlier exploration projects in Egyptian territorial waters in the Mediterranean due to the absence of clearly demarcated borders between Egypt and its neighbours, a situation which has now been resolved.

Fuel imports currently cost Egypt $1.3 billion monthly, according to Al-Sisi, but by 2018 Egypt will cease to be a net energy importer, placing it in a position to become a major hub of energy transfers between Africa, Asia and Europe.

He also said that foreign investments in energy and gas in Egypt took a hit between 2010 and 2013 but has returned now that confidence in the Egyptian economy has been restored.

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