Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1205, (10 - 16 July 2014)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1205, (10 - 16 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

‘Work with me’

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi tells the masses that Egypt is in a state of war, writes Reem Leila

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Al-Ahram Weekly

President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi addressed the nation on Monday on the occasion of the 41st anniversary of the 10 Ramadan (6 October) war. Most of Al-Sisi’s speech focused on efforts to improve the economy and fix the country’s finances, which have suffered over three years of political turmoil. Al-Sisi’s speech comes days after the government raised the prices of electricity and fuel in an attempt to reduce an acute budget deficit.

Al-Sisi said the government’s decision to cut subsidies for fuel and electricity was necessary to improve Egypt’s budget deficit, which is set to hold at 10 per cent of economic output in the next three years. “When I mention subsidies and the budget,” he added, “my aim is that you will work with me. I want street vendors and microbus drivers to work with me. This is not the role of the government alone, but it is the role of all of us.”

Gulf Arab allies opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood have provided Egypt with over US $12 billion in cash and petroleum products to help the country overcome its economic crisis. But Al-Sisi said reforms, not aid, were needed to ensure long-term stability. “Our brothers stood by our side, but for how long will they do that and then what?” he wondered.

During his speech, Al-Sisi asked citizens to support his recent decision, saying it would have been politically wise not to partially lift energy subsidies now but that the economic need is too urgent. The president also warned people against those who might exploit the situation and unnecessarily raise the price of some products. Al-Sisi said, “It would have been easy not to raise the prices now to preserve my popularity, but then I would have betrayed your trust in saving the country.”

The president explained that the country has lost one of its main sources of foreign currency during the past three years, tourism, making the Suez Canal its only source for foreign currency. “We used to gain an annual $14 billion from tourism,” he explained. Al-Sisi said the deficit amounted to LE300 billion in the 2014/15 budget, which was presented to him by the government a few days ago. “Egypt’s total debts stood at LE1.2 trillion three years ago. Three years later, these debts jumped to LE1.9 trillion,” he said.

The president also called on wealthy people to donate to the Long Live Egypt fund — which he established in late June to improve the economy. “Do you think LE10, 20, or even 50 billion will be enough? No, we need much more, we have a lot of work,” he said, citing job opportunities, street children and slum areas as specific targets.

Al-Sisi had already granted half of his monthly income and half of his wealth to the fund — a move that was quickly echoed by other business figures. Earlier on Monday, the president made an appearance at the Heliopolis branch of the National Bank of Egypt to make another deposit into the account. In his turn, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb, said he would donate half of his salary and part of his wealth to the fund. Saudi prince and business tycoon Talal bin Abdul-Aziz also donated one million Saudi riyals to the fund. 

Projects Al-Sisi promised in his campaign, such as the reclamation of one million feddans of land, will be launched after Ramadan, he said. Egypt is paying LE600 million in debt servicing every day, along with another LE600 million per day for public-sector salaries – not to mention a further LE400 million in government subsidies for basic commodities. “I say this so that both the poor and the rich can understand the enormity of our country’s problems,” Al-Sisi said. “Everybody must realise he has a role to play.” The government also raised tariffs on electricity consumption, locally-produced and imported cigarettes by up to 50 per cent. It also raised taxes on alcohol by up to 200 per cent. Previously, government officials announced, the government would save around LE51 billion for the treasury by adopting the new policy.

In an apparent reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, the group to which ousted former president Mohamed Morsi belongs, Al-Sisi warned that some people were ready to destroy the country. “They work hard to do this, believing that they are waging a holy war,” he said. In the same context the president warned world powers against Islamist militants who are destroying the Middle East and posing a threat to everyone’s security. “We are in a state of war”, he said. “Be alert to what is happening in the region... This region is being destroyed right now and we should not allow this to happen,” Al-Sisi said. He added that countries are being destroyed and divided in the name of religion. “This matter concerns not just the Arab world. It concerns the whole world,” he said, naming the United States, Russia, China and Europe as involved parties.”

The Muslim Brotherhood has staged almost daily protests against Morsi’s ouster in the past year. Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters, meanwhile, have been in jail on charges of violence and murder. Morsi himself is facing several charges, which he says are politically motivated, including jailbreak and spying.

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