President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi addressed university students in a Sunday speech, while on his visit to the Suez Canal University.
He opened several files and made statements regarding various controversial ongoing internal issues, such as corruption, protests and parliamentary elections.
Al-Sisi slammed media coverage of the Agriculture Ministry corruption case and the arrest of former minister Salah Helal, saying there were “violations”, and that the media should have been silent, so long as the case is in the hands of the judicial system.
The Administrative Prosecution released a statement a few hours after the arrest, stating the minister was under investigations on charges of bribery, amid an enforced media gag on the case.
The minister’s detention was a subject of major controversy though, not only in the media, as security forces chose to arrest him in Tahrir Square. According to Farid Zahran, vice-president of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP), there were many ‘rumours’ and no official response.
On another note, Al-Sisi said that the constitution was drafted with “good intentions, but that those were not enough to build a country”. The statement stirred controversy, as political and social figures interpreted the message to mean that “the state was no longer bound by constitutional grounds”.
For instance, renowned writer Alaa Al-Aswany wrote on his official Twitter account that “indeed nations cannot be built based on good will, but neither are they built by violating the constitution or undermining it. The president, before all citizens, must abide by it.”
On the other hand, Zahran argued that the statement, like the rest of the president’s speech, is ambiguous. “If states are not built on good will only, then on what else? What is missing from the constitution to enable us to move forward?” he questioned.
Interestingly, the statement was removed from the president’s speech when broadcast on state television, despite being widely shared by local and international media outlets as soon as Al-Sisi spoke the words.
Al-Sisi further called on Egypt’s youth to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
‘There are more than 60 million of you, aged below 40. Your engagement is important and so is your energy. You can carefully and selectively choose, as well as bear waiting in lines to cast your votes,’ Al-Sisi told them.
The president stated that the parliament would shape the youth’s future. He repeatedly called on them to vote ‘wisely’ for those who would represent them, saying “he does not have candidates to present”.
“I think the state adopted a post-revolution strategy that opposes political participation, not only for the youth,” Zahran said. “This happened due to several factors, such as the constant delays in having elections, and the media campaign that has been working against political parties.”
He added that there is a gap between spoken words and the actual practices of the state, which reflect double standards on the part of the state towards political issues. “Besides, I still do not know what type of candidates would be ‘wise’ choices in the president’s words,” he added.
Meanwhile, Al-Sisi rejected the idea of protests, saying ‘it does not mean that the state does not want to listen to the people’s demands, but that those who complain must have an understanding of the bigger picture that is at stake, and take into considerations the country’s economic and socio-political situation.’
Al-Sisi aimed at pointing out the idea that if the country does not develop, the government cannot respond to people’s demands, due to a lack of capacity, rather than unwillingness. “Otherwise, the government will seek to solve your problems at the cost of others,” Al-Sisi said.
He said that the government has to bear the cost of EGP 218bn as salaries for the public sector, which increased form EGP 70bn in 2011, however with no return for the country. “This means that those costs come at the expense of other things,” Al-Sisi said.
Zahran concluded that Egyptians cannot understand how the president is thinking. “Sometimes the situation the president is addressing is confusing, and this is reflected in his speech, and perhaps at other times he wants to relay an important idea that comes out in a shocking manner,” he concluded.