Problems on hold
The outcome of President Sisi’s recent meeting with the editors-in-chief of the three State-owned dailies: ++al-Ahram++, ++al-Akhbar++ and ++al-Gumhouriya++ was a candid, comprehensive interview of special importance since it delved into all affairs related to the Egyptian State on both the local and international levels. The interview answered many of the questions that overwhelm Egyptians at this critical time when various changes and events hit Egypt hard, and it does not help that a frenzied media wreaks havoc with public opinion. The President’s recent interview put Egypt’s dilemma in perspective; it was essential in order to stem the tide of rumour that swamps the social media about everything that goes on in Egypt. Admittedly, cyberspace opens unprecedented, unlimited horizons of knowledge; but it also provides accessible vistas of unsubstantiated, unchecked rumours.
The interview with the President helped elucidate many issues that were until then shrouded in mystery and ‘misinterpreted’ through by-now evidently visible conspiracy mongers that seek to bring Egypt down by fomenting public discontent and unrest in order to destroy the Egyptian State. I read the President’s interview carefully and found much comfort at what I read, but I was shocked to discover that most people were in the first place unaware of it. This unawareness owes to the widespread trend of ‘we don’t read papers’ which the younger, and even a sizeable portion of the older, generations unashamedly admit. I find the wide majority of the people I meet to have no desire, interest or time to delve into any matter carefully or in detail. They are content to accidentally catch a headline or statement here or there, or read a blog over a social networking site. This way they believe they know all there is to know about any given topic; they feel no need to substantiate or track down to reliable sources the information they stumbled upon. The result is the prevalence among the public of a collection of scattered, disconnected negative opinion that contributes, whether intentionally or out of ignorance, to disfigure all the ongoing arduous efforts to rebuild a shattered post-Arab Spring Egypt that is moreover battling internal and external Islamist terrorism on political, economic and security fronts. To add insult to injury, this ill-informed sector of the public fervently preaches the inevitability of the downfall of Egypt.
The prevalent climate of self-inflicted misinformation drives me into constant debates with persons I meet, especially those who come from well-educated, affluent circles. In this regard, I care to highlight some excerpts of the interview with President Sisi. I focus on points which I believe are indicative of the nature of the road Egypt is treading to overcome challenges on various fronts. These selections had the effect of reviving my confidence and hope in cutting the road before conspiracies to bring Egypt to its knees. I ask my readers to join me in a quick reading of the expansive interview, which I offer to those who have given up reliable news sources and prefer unsubstantiated information posted on social media instead.
- Throughout the last two years [the period during which Sisi became President, freely elected by a landslide after Egyptians rid themselves of the Islamist post-Arab Spring rule] no one in the world has been able to dictate our decisions; Egyptian national decisions enjoy absolute independence.
- We are dealing with the issue of the demarcation of the maritime borders with Saudi Arabia—and the related issue of the islands of Tiran and Sanfir—with absolute respect for Egypt’s State institutions, and for the independence of our judiciary. Egypt’s parliament is carefully studying the border demarcation agreement signed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Our Saudi Arabian counterparts understand the constitutional procedures in Egypt. Demarcating maritime borders offers excellent opportunities to search for the natural wealth and resources that lie in Egyptian regional waters. When the Egypt / Cyprus maritime border was demarcated in 2015, the Egyptian side was in good position to discover the Zohr Natural Gas field in Egyptian waters.
- Egyptian-American relations are strategic. They are based on fundamentals that both sides respect, and which drive them to review their stances when needed.During the past three years, the Americans were able to grasp facts about the situation in Egypt and to realise that our policies are characterised with balance, prudence, and respect for our relations with the US.
- Egyptian-Russian relations are old, well established, and strong. They are very special in that they enjoy historic, political and economic dimensions.
- There is nothing new with Egyptian-Turkish relations. Egypt is giving Turkey’s leaders time to correct their [pro Muslim Brotherhood] stances and rectify their [hostile to Egypt] declarations. Not everything they say warrants reply; because when it comes to relations between States not all statements warrant response; declarations and dealings must be appropriately decent. As for relations between the Egyptian and Turkish peoples, there is no reason at all for any hostility on the part of either of them.
- We in Egypt, leadership and people, face challenges as one strong national bloc. We are patiently waiting for the Egyptian experiment to mature. I confirm my respect and appreciation of the awareness of the Egyptian people who have revealed an astounding capacity to comprehend, assess and judge all matters. Despite attempts [by the enemies of Egypt] to curb public awareness and distort the facts, Egyptians have time and again proved they enjoy a very high level of awareness.
- Regarding the recent agreement between Egypt and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Egypt could never have tolerated a ‘custodian’ dictating reform. What happened with the IMF is common practice everywhere in the world. Governments present a programme and discuss it with the IMF; Egypt was no exception. Economic reform was long overdue. Today, we can in no way afford to procrastinate on it.
- Some forces of evil have circulated rumours to the effect that the government intends to fire one million employees. Who says so? How can I be in a position of responsibility and throw a million employees and their families into the streets? The State cannot even think of such a thing.
- The medicine is bitter; adequate measures must be put in place to achieve reform even if these measures are painful on the short term. But we are working hard to alleviate the heavy burden off limited income and middle class Egyptians.
- State planned mega-projects have helped bring down unemployment rates from 13.8 to 12.5 per cent, and raise economic growth to some 4.5 per cent. This is not only on account of building projects, but also because of roads, ports and services projects.
- Our aim in building a New Administrative Capital, as well as new towns in Alamein, Port Said, Ismailiya, Suez and Upper Egypt, is to create breathing space for existing urban blocs through appropriate urban planning. This applies especially to regions that include no substantial agricultural land, and it relieves the increasing pressure on Cairo as the current capital city.
- Army men are not construction workers; they are basically fighters. The role of the Egyptian Armed Forces in the construction sector is to maintain discipline in the work of public and private sector contracting companies. The army is not a construction company, it represents a disciplined mind that directs work and oversees its execution according to pre-set schedules, with the aim of completing the work at the best time, with the highest quality and at the lowest cost. We should also not overlook the role played by the Armed Forces in controlling the spiralling prices through supplying the market with goods at reasonable prices in order to ease the burden of economic reform on Egyptians.
- The bill for arming the Armed Forces and its modernisation is met from outside the national budget. It comes from savings in the military budget, accumulated over the past 25 years by means of a spending control policy that aimed at making the necessary funds available for the army’s plans for development, training and armament without putting pressure on the State national budget.
- We are facing a sector of Egyptians that spreads falsities and rumours by word of mouth or through social networking. However, the people and the State shall prevail; and this battle is nearing its final chapter.
- Mainstream Egyptians never cease to amaze me with their understanding, contentment, and prayers for Egypt. They leave me with an impression diametrically opposite to that promoted and spread by ‘well-educated’ angry Egyptians.
4 September 2016