Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi asked Egyptians to support a recent decision to raise petrol prices, saying it would have been politically wise not to roll back energy subsidies now but that the economic need is too urgent.
"It would have been easy not to raise the prices now to keep my popularity, but then I would have betrayed your trust in saving the country," El-Sisi said in a recorded speech aired on state TV Monday evening.
He insisted that he has been honest from the beginning of his presidential campaign months ago, when he said that fixing Egypt's economy would not be easy and that it would take at least two years of hard work.
On Friday, the Egyptian government raised the prices of fuel and electricity, a move that some economists say is a necessary step towards rolling back costly subsidies but that has sparked outrage from segments of the population, especially microbus and taxi drivers.
"When I speak about subsidies and the budget," he said, "my aim is that you will work with me. I want street vendors and microbus drivers to work with me. This is not the role of the state alone, but it is our role for all of us."
Speaking on the eve of the 10th day of Ramadan, when Egypt launched the 1973 war with Israel, the former army chief evoked the hardships that he says Egyptians had to endure from the army's defeat in the Six Day War in 1967 until the victory of 1973 war.
El-Sisi spoke of how he rejected the government's initial budget to bring the proposed deficit down to LE240 billion from LE300 billion. The president said that current subsidies cost the government LE400 million a day, with interest on the debt costing another LE600 million per day.
He said Egypt was going to borrow LE250 billion – in addition to recent Gulf aid totalling $900 million.
"The only constant source of foreign currency we have now is the Suez Canal," El-Sisi said, suggesting that tourism in the country has completely dried up.
He also called on wealthy Egyptians to give to his Long Live Egypt fund – which he established in late June to collect donations to improve the country's economy.
"Do you think 10 or 20 billion will be enough? No, we need much more, we have a lot of work," he said, mentioning job opportunities, street children and slum areas specifically.
He has since gifted half of his monthly salary and half of his wealth to the fund – a move that was quickly echoed by other business figures. Earlier on Monday, the president made an appearance at the Heliopolis branch of the National Bank of Egypt – the country's largest bank – to make another deposit into the account.
Projects he promised in his campaign – like reclaiming 1 million feddans of land for housing and a new transportation network – will be launched after Ramadan, he said.
At the end of his speech, the former general said that religion was being used to "bring down" neighbouring countries but vowed that it would not happen in Egypt.
"I tell those who are listening – from Americans, Russians, Chinese and Europeans – that the [Middle East] region is being destroyed right now," he said.