CAIRO – 26 October 2022: President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi delivered an almost two-hour speech at the end of the Economic Conference 2022 on Wednesday, where he elaborately explained several aspects of the challenges facing the Egyptian economy.
Words VS reality
He said that his words stem from a is a 7-year experience of governance, as not all proposals thrown out there can become a reality. He added that the trajectory of the country for the past 30 years must be reviewed to learn lessons from it, and that there was “nothing intact” in Egypt when he came to power.
“I am ready for a deep, transparent dialogue with anyone in any field,” the president said, noting that some experts were offered a position in the government, but when they learned of the salary, they preferred to stay in their private positions and offered council instead.
“Everybody can have a say in our trajectory and dialogue, including military companies, the private sector, and, for example, pharmaceutical companies,” he added. However, the private sector demanded that the government lays off workers in state-owned companies before they buy the organizations. But Sisi says he couldn't make an enemy of poor people or hurt entire communities and hundreds of families by sacking the workers.
Sisi underscored that there is a difference between poor people and the behavior of poverty.
Some investors have proposals that only consider their perspective, without asking whether the state can do it. If the proposal is doable by the state, then the investor was able to see the big picture, the president continued.
Ports in a country overlooking two seas and a river
He spoke of the ambition to have a network of ports that befits the unique geographical location of Egypt, but the plan needs 40-50 billion EGP, so the military intervened to help as no businesses were willing to. He continued to salute the military for intervening to push the economy when no one else would.
According to Minister of Transportation Kamel al-Wazir, in 2024 Egypt would have 75 kilometers of platforms and stations in ports so Egypt becomes an international hub for maritime navigation, whereas in 2020 Egypt had only 20 kilometers of ports.
As of today, Egypt has 57 Kilometers of ports 15-17 meters deep in partnership with the most prominent companies of navigation lines, which are competing over managing them, Wazir said.
Speaking of why the government spent so much money on building the ports itself, Sisi wondered what company would build a platform of 15 kilometers into the sea on the coast of Alexandria, a city that is “down to its knees in encroachments”?
Five years it would have taken Egypt to discuss the port network plan, and more years so the private sector finds the finances, Sisi said, adding that it would have been such a delay when Egypt does not have time for this.
He continued to address the private sector that in ports, real estate, or agriculture, “are you ready to join in? Because I have finished [the infrastructure].”
Many of the infrastructure projects could have easily taken a decade, but they were finished in a couple of years, Sisi emphasized.
“The constitution stipulates that education is for all for free, and the idea itself is great, but could the state do that? Would education be of quality?” Sisi started his talk on education. He highlighted that Education is closely related to the economy, and it needs 250 billion EGP at least every year. He added that Egypt needs 60,000 new school classes a year to accommodate the population increase. At least a million EGP is needed a year to maintain and upkeep every school in Egypt. He acknowledged that teachers’ salaries are low, saying “in all honesty, less than 10,000 EGP a month is not enough to sustain a family.
He called on young people to volunteer at schools to support teachers who receive such a low salary.
“With all due respect to the spirit in which the constitution was written, but did they have in mind whether the state has the capacity to fulfil these obligations? If it had been written in a way the state can stick to, the parliament could have held the cabinet accountable in a more sensible manner.”
The president set the Giza Zoo as an example of the criticism the government faces whenever it embarks on a project. He said the zoo is dilapidating, but he would rather open 10 new zoos because people will criticize and lament "the plants, oh the beautiful lions," he said to the laughter of the audience. He also criticized the mockery the new Minister of Education faced from day one in office. Sisi called for a "chance."
In Egypt, it is best to increase good institutions and reduce bad institutions, rather than eliminate bad institutions all at once. This applies to education, transportation, and the health sector.
Infrastructure and lessons learned
When land reclamation projects first started, investors said they would build the infrastructure needed, but they did not. Less than 20% of the prospected production was made, and the government could not even decide the crops to be planted.
Another example is the Furniture City in Damietta, which was built according to what the government thought would work. But the locals did not come because the study had not considered other aspects, such as the comfort of most furniture makers in living just above their workshop in the heart of the city.
Experiences such as these led to a shift in the thinking of the government, embarking on major infrastructure projects on its own, according to Sisi.
Sisi said 150 billion EGP are needed to reclaim the plots of land we eye. It is expensive because lands that can be planted the easy way are already occupied, so today Egypt must irrigate in the opposite way of flowing water. So, it needs, among other things, water lifting stations.
It is very hard to find an investor who would pay that much, and that's normal, he added.
The government has finished in recent years several huge infrastructure projects to kick off the New Egyptian Countryside and the Million Feddans project.
When the Administrative Capital was still a desert, the military was the first to build in there; it constructed Al-Masa hotel, and a cathedral and a mosque.
The government continued to built infrastructure and the government district, and the private sector then joined in. The same strategy was followed in New Alamein.
The fourth-generation cities have given the state 10 trillion EGP in added value to the economy that will be received in 5-15 years, and more than 5 to 6 million Egyptians found job opportunities in state-run projects in the past few years, Sisi said.
Population and culture
Late presidents Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak all spoke about the population crisis, but no one resolved the problem, but Sisi also spoke of the role of clergymen in raising awareness about family planning.
The culture of having many children with the comfort of having a government that would look after the kids is flawed, and to have more children than one can afford and then say the government did not educate or employ the kids is not sensible, Sisi said.
He emphasized that looking after families is not the government’s job.
The 2014 momentum
In the opening of the Economic Conference, Sisi spoke of “risking his popularity” when he became president in 2014 by applying harsh economic reforms. Later in the final day of the conference, he elaborated that his role after 2013 was to work on the “conscience of the society,” and the momentum had to be used at the time, or else Egypt would have missed its chance.
The Suez Canal Authority at one point had no money aside from the figure it gave to the Ministry of Finance every year. So, Egypt started the New Suez Canal project, and even though the state was able to manage the money for the project, it called for certificates of deposits to fund it in order to create momentum after years of turmoil, and people were more than happy to contribute.