CAIRO – 21 March 2018: President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi said that there are no instructions to jail anyone who voices opposition or grievances towards the government. However, he added in an interview Tuesday that people should not spread feelings of hopelessness, claiming that it will eventually turn into a reality.
In a short film that famous director Sandra Nashaat showed Sisi during the interview, several people refused to speak, at least initially, in front of the camera about the problems they see with Sisi, fearing jail or persecution. Sisi encouraged people to speak freely, warning that violence that harms the country will not be allowed.
Although he said TV presenters are free to talk for as long as they want about anything, he criticized talk shows where a presenter talks for hours every single day. He said that for them to find material to talk about for such long hours means that they present outstanding incidents that do not represent the society justly.
Military's share of state budget only 2-3%: Sisi
In his first interview ahead of the presidential election on March 26, Nashaat played the video of people complaining about high prices and inflation, which peaked in July 2017 at 33 percent and dropped to 14.14 percent in February 2018. They also spoke of poor education, health services and pensions, while a young man and woman said the military, which administers several economic and infrastructure projects, is not specialized in managing the economy.
Sisi replied that people exaggerate the budget of the army, which is not scrutinized by parliament, and he revealed that of the country's LE 4.3 trillion ($240 billion) budget in 2018/2019, only 2-3 percent is allocated to the army.
He also emphasized that military efforts in North Sinai require capital, noting that entirely eradicating terror in the area is not realistic. However, if the terror threat was reduced from 10 percent to nine percent, that would be a great achievement, he continued.
He further explained that fighting terrorism in North Sinai would not only be through military operations, but also through development.
Sisi “partly responsible” for preparing successors
The film also showed people saying they hoped to see opponents in the election. Presidential candidate Moussa Mostafa Moussa is not well known by the public, and others who had announced their bids for the elections, such as former presidential candidates Ahmed Shafik and Khaled Ali, as well as former Chief of Staff Sami Anan, all decided not to run, eventually. Anan was summoned by the military prosecution over forgery and inciting hatred against the army.
But Sisi believes that the lack of competition is not his fault, saying he wishes there were up to 10 candidates from whom the people could choose. However, this did not happen, because "we are not ready; we have 100 parties, but they did not introduce anyone [to run]."
Nevertheless, he said that preparing a group of cadres who are fit to assume the highest position in Egypt is partly his responsibility, and that people could then choose among them.
In February, Sisi met with Patrick Gerard, director of French national school Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA), to discuss cooperation between the school and the Youth Academy to hone the skills of officials and enable them to progress and advance in their posts.
Egypt has also been running the Presidential Leadership Program since 2015, which Sisi said aims at preparing the youth to assume important government positions.
CAIRO – 19 February 2018: Since the declaration of the republic following the Egyptian Revolution in 1952 and the abolishment of the monarchy, Egypt has been led by nine leaders; six presidents, two interim presidents and one acting president.
“State consolidation phase” coming to an end
The president said Egyptians may face hardships as individuals, but by taking the bigger picture into view with regards to the country, citizens can learn to be more patient. The reforms may initially be difficult to deal with, but citizens will still be able to make a living. The initial difficult phase of consolidating the state is coming to an end, according to the president.
In response to the economic grievances brought up in the video, Sisi called for citizens to take some of the responsibility. For example, couples who choose to have up to five children without first having a plan for how to provide for them should take more care in thinking about the future. He has talked about planned parenthood on several other occasions.
He stressed that the state still subsidizes the most important goods, such as gas and electricity. He used the examples of food subsidy cards and gas cylinders, which cost LE 130 but are sold to the public for only LE 30.
Sisi also cited housing projects that surpass 800,000 units for middle-income earners, able to and accommodate millions of people. At the same time, he admitted that improvements in pensions are not close to senior citizens' expectations.
The major success of Hepatitis C treatments, construction projects that are finished in six months instead of several years, and introducing cheap meat and chicken in the market are among other points brought up by the president.
He called on civil society to administer new hospitals built by the government.
Sisi himself complained that Egypt's infrastructure is poor and that "real education" has been absent for over 30 years. An educational reform program will last for 14 years, and all new universities will form partnerships with the world's top 50 universities that will result in modifying the curricula and teaching methods appropriately.
The New Administrative Capital will include six international universities from the United States, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Canada, Sweden and France, said Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Khaled Abdul Ghaffar at an international conference on education in the United Kingdom on Nov. 1, 2017, titled “Cross Boundary Education in Egypt and the Chances of Investment in the Higher Education.”
Meanwhile, education reform programs will be implemented in the already established universities in Egypt to improve them, Sisi said.
Sisi weighs on history of Egyptian economy
Egypt's economy was "fine" until the 1950s and perhaps until 1962, when the military began operating in Yemen for five years to support republicans against royalists. Before that, a dollar was worth 30 piasters, according to Sisi, whereas now, the dollar equals LE 17.6.
A major crisis began with the 1967 war with Israel, as huge sums of money were needed to rebuild the Egyptian army and sustain the economy. Such assets did not exist and more wars ensued, including the War of Attrition and the 1973 war, when Egypt regained control of the Sinai.
He explained that the country's economy froze from 1962 until around 1977 because the budget was mostly going to the military, which people at the time understood was needed in order to free the occupied territory, and the people remained patient.
Sisi stressed that this was not the fault of late presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser or Anwar Sadat, but rather that it was just what the situation was like at the time.
He said Nasser was a "patriot" who loved Egypt and his entire home – the Arab world – and that Sadat attempted to make economic reforms but was assassinated in 1981, being way ahead of everyone else in terms of his ideas on war and peace.
"The challenges in Egypt are bigger than any president; we all have to be together on this," Sisi said when he was asked to comment on ousted President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak.
Flashback to the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood
In a flashback to the turbulent year of 2013, he said that the large numbers of people taking to the streets on June 30, July 3 and July 27 constituted a message to the world that the Egyptian people were not silenced and were expressing their will to end the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.
He said that ruling with a religious dogma will fail over time, because there will always be divisions on what is religiously correct and what is not.
If the Brotherhood had read the situation correctly at the time, they would have found that an early presidential election would have proven to them whether the people still wanted them in power, or if they were no longer accepted by the majority. This would have allowed them to leave office while maintaining a prominent voice in the political scene, consolidating their credibility, in Sisi's view.
Nashaat did not ask Sisi about the forced dispersal of the Rabaa al-Adaweya sit-in on Aug. 14, 2013, where hundreds were reportedly killed, including victims within the ranks of the police.
Family and the influence of women
Sisi has appeared as a president who supports women’s rights since he rose to power in 2014. On the next day to his inauguration, he visited a victim of brutal sexual harassment at Tahrir Square. The representation of women in the parliament and the cabinet is the highest in Egypt’s history.
In his experience, the role of women in Sisi’s life has been “rich,” he said, adding that his mother had such positive influence on his mindset.
He said his uncle was one of his main influences growing up, describing him as "altruistic and generous," and stressing that he did not use foul language, although he was not highly educated. He described the residents of the neighborhood in which he was raised – Al-Azhar district in Old Cairo – as blue-collar yet well-mannered. He mentioned good relations between Muslims, Christians and Jews that he described as not being taught, but rather inherited.
The president usually wears a ring with a black stone, and when Nashaat asked him about it, he said he has worn it since his father gifted it to him.
The interview ended with the camera fixed on Sisi saying he wanted the Egyptian people to know he only cares about "work, work, work."