In the second part of his interview with editors-in-chief of state-owned newspapers, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi said Monday that he is running the country without support from any political entity, noting that “popular support” is his backbone.
In a lengthy interview, Al-Sisi repeated his hints that there are “attempts” being made to weaken popular support, although he did not provide any details.
“The challenge is huge and we are living in the most difficult times. The future of the nation is on the fringe. I can say that what we did in the last two years exceeded all hopes,” Al-Sisi added while mentioning the challenges he has overcome.
During the interview, Al-Sisi talked about the effectiveness of national projects in different fields, asserting their importance in creating future benefits for the state.
As price hikes on essential goods and services are expected, state officials are mobilising in the media to ease citizens’ concerns about potential negative effects of foreign loans and the price of the US dollar on the economic status of ordinary citizens.
Al-Sisi said there is a difference between “economic reform” and “the IMF loan”. “It is not suitable for Egypt to be under guardianship to be told how to reform its economy.”
Despite criticism of the loan, Al-Sisi said: “What happened with the IMF is very standard and takes place with all countries.” He stressed the need to limit the budget deficit, through loans, increase industry, and support the private sectors.
Al-Sisi asserted, however, that the state is studying steps to maintain stability and limit economic pressures on low- and middle-classes. The measures include giving pensions to a maximum one million families, regulating increases on electricity bills, increasing the amount of pensions from EGP 200 to EGP 500 while adding an amount of EGP 125, and presenting unconditional pensions to the poor, orphans, and widows.
While Al-Sisi is promising to ease processes on citizens, the Egyptian parliament and government are increasing fees and expenses, such as those of electricity, while discussing laws that will implement fees on Egyptian expats, and will potentially increase the prices of gas, cigarettes, cooking oil, cars, medicine, electricity devices, and telecommunications services.
When asked about the role of the Armed Forces in mega-projects and whether this will affect the activity of public and private companies, Al-Sisi said that “the army’s men are not construction workers. They are fighters. The role of the Armed Forces in these projects is administrative… It administers work according to a specific timeline with the aim of achieving the best quality in minimal timing.”
Al-Sisi added that the army observes the work of private companies to make sure it is up to Egypt’s standards.
He also talked about the army’s role in policing prices of goods and providing food products at reduced prices to the public. The Armed Forces’ food good products range from meats and poultry to other consumer products, and are sold in squares and supermarkets; however, its expenses and profits are unknown to the public.
The increased involvement of the military apparatus in the country’s infrastructure intensified after 3 July 2013, as the first construction project the army administered was the rebuilding of the destroyed churches during the post-Rabaa Al-Adaweya violence.
Three years later, the army is now entrusted by the orders of Al-Sisi with building roads, canals, factories, farms, whole cities, and reforming informal housing. Most of these projects are administered by the Armed Forces Engineering Authority, which owns a whole fleet of building crews and sometimes uses assistance from private contractors and construction companies.
The president, who comes from a strong military background, said that the army’s cut from the state’s budget constitutes 2% to 2.5%, “which is the lowest in the region”.
However, the army’s budget as a whole remains unknown to the Egyptian public, legislative apparatus, and civil society.