Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi sat for an interview published on Saturday with the chief editors of three state-owned newspapers to talk about government reform measures, the army’s role in reform and the fight against terrorism, as well as the media and recent calls for protests.
This is the second interview El-Sisi has given with the chief editors of Al-Ahram, Al-Akhbar and Al-Gomhoreya newspapers in less than two months. A second part of the interview will be published on Sunday.
Reform measures, IMF loan and investment
El-Sisi first spoke of how he sees the overall state of Egypt, saying the country is recuperating from a long and chronic disease.
“We are in the bottleneck and we are on our way out, but if we want to get out we have to take tough decisions, tolerate these decisions, be patient and the results will be great for the upcoming days and the upcoming generations,” he said.
The president added that he has known the cure for Egypt’s “chronic disease” since long before he was elected president.
He stated that reform measures are hard but “inevitable to save the economic situation,” and that no one before him had taken the necessary actions that should have been put into effect long ago.
“I am the one responsible for [this] country, its protection, its future and the future of its sons. If I was just looking for my own interest, there are many things I would not have done,” the president said.
Egypt, which relies heavily on imports to support its population of over 91 million, has been suffering from an acute shortage of US currency in the wake of the 2011 uprising, which was followed by political and security unrest that turned away tourists and foreign investors, two major sources of hard currency.
The country recently reached a staff-level agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a $12 billion loan over three years.
On the IMF loan, El-Sisi said the country presented its previously drafted reform programme to the IMF, and that their acceptance of Egypt’s programme means the country is capable of paying back the loan.
The president added that a number of measures are being taken in anticipation of foreign investment in the country, which he says is expected to increase after Egypt takes the IMF loan.
These measures include revising and redrafting the investment law, as well as rehabilitating infrastructure.
El-Sisi stated that although the infrastructure rehabilitation project should take six to eight years to complete, it will be done by April 2018.
The president said that half-a-million feddans will be up for sale this month from the 1.5 million feddan agriculture project.
Any Egyptian youth can buy 10 feddans by instalment at a five percent interest rate, the president added.
On the new administrative capital currently under construction in New Cairo, El-Sisi said that it will be completed within five to six years, with the first stage done by 2018.
The army and terrorism
The president said that the army is playing a large role in the country’s development process, a role that will be scaled back once the infrastructure rehabilitation project is complete.
“[I want] to tell the Egyptian people that the Armed Forces are capable and qualified to protect Egypt against any threats to its safety and security... and are capable of protecting Arab national security,” El-Sisi stated.
On Egypt’s recently acquired Mistral aircraft carriers from France, El-Sisi said Egypt has gas fields 200 kilometres away from its shores that will be protected using the Mistrals.
On the fight against Islamist militants in North Sinai, El-Sisi said the situation is improving and security efforts are ongoing.
Hundreds of security forces in North Sinai have been killed in attacks by Islamist militants since the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
Egyptian security forces say they have killed hundreds of militants in North Sinai during the same period.
“The war is long, terrorists are developing themselves, and we are developing our operations,” El-Sisi stated.
Calls for protests
The editors-in-chief asked President El-Sisi for his opinion on “anti-state groups calling for protests,” such as the protests being called for on 11 November – or 11/11 as dubbed in the media – over the country’s economic situation.
“Egyptians have more awareness than anyone can imagine ... so all these efforts exercised by these [anti-state] elements and the people of evil are destined to fail,” El-Sisi said.
“There are some media that create a [certain] state that if left to accumulate will create frustration and an absence of hope, and no state or people can live without hope,” the president said.
El-Sisi said he did not want to speak of the media in an offensive manner, but that some TV channels and newspapers discuss some issues related to fuel and basic commodities in a way that is leading people to stockpile over fears of increases in price, and thus the country has to import more and spend more hard currency.