President Abdel Fattah El Sisi’s interview with Ossama Kamal was syndicated to most other broadcasters in Egypt. The nearly two-hour-long interview was covered everything from mega projects to corruption, bureaucracy and the president’s relationship with the press, but steered clear of real policy discussions. The interview has yet to make a splash in international media.
On Mohamed Morsi and foreign powers
As defence minister under former President Mohamed Morsi, El Sisi said Morsi focused on clashing with state institutions and “the public opinion.” Morsi was putting the country in a very challenging situation: “They [the Ikhwan] did not know the Egyptian people.” And while there have been a number of attempts over the past two years by “foreign powers” to incite the Egyptian people to “act,” they have refused, he said, stopping short of naming the entities, who he added are present domestically and internationally.
National mega projects and domestic investment
The extra cost associated with completing the Suez Canal expansion project ahead of schedule was needed to lift the public’s morale: “It was the Egyptian people working on these projects, they have accomplished this,” El Sisi said. Over 1,000 companies and two mn Egyptian workers are working on national projects currently. This has been going on for two years, will go on for the next two years, and the number could even increase, he noted. El Sisi said the Armed Forces’ Engineering Authority only has a supervisory role with regard to the projects; the military cannot undertake all those national projects, he said; they are being executed by private companies.
Meanwhile, the administration is now working on developing the previously neglected Sinai, with a focus on expanding industrial and agricultural activities there. But even with all the national mega project activity, El Sisi is not pleased. “We have to work harder … we are far behind and need to catch up.” On the new administrative capital project, El Sisi dismissed the idea that it wasn’t important, adding that it would generate a large return. He says he is planting the seed for generations to come, even if this means he will not be president by the time Egypt’s first nuclear power plant project is delivered in eight years.
It will take us 12-13 years to see tangible improvements in education, El Sisi said, adding that both education and healthcare are pressing issues. He said the government’s plan to improve healthcare includes improving conditions whenever possible and trying to optimise resources.
Egypt will continue to spend on strengthening its “abilities.” These are partly related to expanding its economic capacity, but will also include military spending. “We need to be able to protect ourselves … we need to stay part of the geostrategic equation,” El Sisi says. He notes that there is a “gap” in the regional balance of power that was created after a number a regional players were impacted, “we are just filling that gap … we do not have hidden agendas.” Having the “capability to respond” is a sufficient deterrent.
Don’t complain about increasing prices, El Sisi urged Egyptians, even after the cost increases, services are still being subsidised. “We need to rationalize our consumption.” Development has a cost, and we spent years trying to avoid paying our “cost of development.” On the FX issues, El Sisi says “we are tackling the USD shortage already.”
On corruption and bureaucracy
Egypt is also combating corruption and improving data collection. The line between corruption and getting business moving is now clear, El Sisi says. Ministers and officials should not be hesitant in taking decisions, but state institutions and regulators need to have better communications.
“I was not unhappy the parliament rejected the civil service law,” El Sisi said, “We respect the democratic process, the parliament is a state authority… The parliament will even discuss the issue of the [Tiran and Sanafir] islands.” The civil service law was part of the attempt to make the executive branch of government more efficient. The state employs 6.9 mn people and only requires “one mn or less” to function. 900k were added after “the revolution” alone.
Egypt’s youth should be prepared to lead the country, said El Sisi, adding that the state is preparing is grooming “cadres” young people who can assume leadership positions in government, the legislature, city councils, and in the private sector. El Sisi also refused to accept that a large number of young people are being arrested by the state. 90% of the imprisoned youth are there for criminal offences, not political, he added. For the remaining “10%,” El Sisi hinted that there could be another wave of presidential pardons.
El Sisi wants football stadiums to reopen to the public and called on the Ultras to, effectively, behave themselves in the stands and work with the Youth Ministry and the MOI on the matter.
The domestic media:
The state and the media are not in conflict, but the media lacks — and needs — leadership to properly contextualize the news for the people. This is the case in all countries, including democratic ones, the president said. The constitution prevented the re-establishment of an information ministry, so we need a new framework. As for social media, El Sisi reiterated his earlier warning, urging Egyptians to be mindful of who operates social media channels and their intentions.
On human rights
When pressed on the “exaggerated” attacks on Egypt’s human rights record, the president stated that it was a matter of keeping our ducks in order. Egypt has been prioritizing housing, education, health, and employment, which are all human rights, said El Sisi. As for freedom of expression, El Sisi said the days of imprisonment for freedom of expression had been over for five years. He also added that the freedom of expression must be constructive.
On foreign policy
Some foreign countries have been actively trying to impede Egypt’s reemergence in regional affairs. These efforts include stirring up the issue of Tiran and Sanafir to break down the relationship it has with GCC partners. Egypt has also been doing its best to contain crises with Russia (over the Metrojet crash) and Italy (over the death of Giulio Regeni) but these efforts must be coordinated between the state and the media. When questioned on US-Egyptian relations, El Sisi reaffirmed their strategic ties and noted that the US’s role in regional politics is important by virtue of being a superpower. He also stressed Egypt’s role in the Middle East peace conference in Paris and Egypt’s peace initiative.