Problems on hold
For the second time since he became Egypt’s President in June 2014, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi sat for an interview with the chief editors of the three State-owned Cairo dailies—al-Ahram, al-Akhbar and al-Gomhouriya. The extensive interview, which took place in Riyadh where Sisi recently attended the anti-terrorism summit, covered local and international issues that preoccupy public opinion. The President offered candid and assertive answers to a plethora of questions, projecting confidence and hope.
A number of the President’s replies caught my attention, others I contemplated and will here comment on. Let me start with what caught my attention. President Sisi said:
- We have spent EGP100 billion over three years on the country’s infrastructure. This involved the construction of 7000km of roads across Egypt; the ministries of defence, housing and transport all collaborated in this huge undertaking. The Armed Forces were a pivotal partner in the work; without them we might never have been able to overcome the challenges or the complexities in the construction process.
- We are still in the process of securing the foundations of the State [which were shattered by the anarchy brought in by the 2011 Arab Spring], a phase which was planned to last for four years that end with the completion of my current presidential term. This phase involves measures to recapture State authority and reinforce State institutions and the rule of law. We have already made several accomplishments on that score, and I plan to give Egyptians next January / February an account of what I achieved since I was entrusted with Egypt’s presidency and until I hand it over to the next president.
- We are striving to build calibres of young people who would be capable of shouldering the responsibility of leading posts such as governor, cabinet minister, or prime minister.
- Supposedly enlightened Islamic scholars have been issuing fatwas—a fatwa is an Islamic legal opinion—that pronounce a portion of Egyptians [Christians] as infidels. This strongly confirms our stance that outdated religious thought must be confronted. We should all be able to practise our faith with tolerance, moderation, and without obsessions.
- I have repeatedly called for political parties with similar leanings and agendas to merge together in order to create a small number of strong parties [instead of the countless small, weak parties we now have]. This would give the chance for parties to produce calibres suitable for power rotation. I hope to see parties that share the same ideologies striving towards coordinating among themselves with a view to merge into one bigger body.
Here are a few of the President’s remarks I would like to comment on:
- The President said, “I will not run for a second term unless according to public will, and I will only remain in office if this is the people’s wish.” This declaration came in reply to a question for President Sisi during the Ismailiya Youth Conference last month: “Would you remain in office if the [presidential] elections results do not come out in your favour?” Both the question and answer surprised me, since our Constitution is absolutely unambiguous about this issue. Article 140 stipulates, “The President of the Republic shall be elected for a period of four Gregorian calendar years, commencing the day following the termination of the term of his predecessor. The President may only be re-elected once.” Article 142 stipulates, “To be accepted as a candidate for the presidency, candidates must receive the recommendation of at least 20 elected members of the House of Representatives, or support from at least 25,000 citizens who have the right to vote, in at least 15 governorates, with a minimum 1,000 supporters in each governorate. In all cases, no one can support more than one candidate, as regulated by the law.” All this means that remaining in power against election result is constitutionally not possible. The Constitution also clearly stipulates resorting to public will prior to nomination for the presidency.
Before I close this issue, and in order to avoid any emotional response that suggests the Constitution may be amended to extend the presidency terms, let me refer to article 226 of the Constitution which reads, “In all cases, texts pertaining to re-election of the President of the Republic or the principles of freedom or equality stipulated in this Constitution may not be amended, unless an amendment brings in more guarantees.”
- President Sisi said, “I would like the handing of power in the future to be smooth and civilized. I cannot forget how the outgoing French President, Mr Hollande, gently greeted the incoming new President, Mr Macron, on the steps of the presidential palace, then went his way. I wish to see the same scene here in Egypt.” I can now proudly and confidently say that although the Constitution itself guarantees a peaceful rotation of power, Egyptians will forever remember with pride when Mr Sisi took oath as President after he won the 2014 elections, and how the interim President Adly Mansour handed him power. The session took place at the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) since, as stipulated by the Constitution, in the absence of a House of Representatives the new president takes oath at the SCC. We will forever remember how Mr Mansour—whose term had ended with the election of President Sisi—gently accompanied President Sisi, blessing him and handing over power to him. I was keen to highlight this in order to confirm that we are living under a constitution that organises, establishes and secures all means of political and peaceful power rotation.
28 May 2017