Muslim Brotherhood-controlled TV channels and social media outlets have spearheaded the spread of rumours against the Egyptian state and army over the past week. The hostile campaign met with quick responses from state officials, including President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, and state-owned TV channels.
President Al-Sisi’s response came on 14 September, during the eighth National Youth Conference.
During the conference, Al-Sisi described allegations levelled against the army by fugitive contractor Mohamed Ali as “lies and defamation”.
In a series of videos posted online Ali claimed the army had squandered billions of pounds on construction works, including building presidential palaces and hotels.
Muslim Brotherhood-led TV channels broadcasting from Turkey and Qatar, busy urging people to protest against what they call “the regime’s corruption” next Friday, quickly picked-up on Ali’s online videos and broadcast them.
Al-Sisi said, “though all state apparatuses advised me not to respond to these accusations I said no, because they aim to sow scepticism and push people into losing confidence in me.”
Al-Sisi said projects being carried out under his rule, including the New Administrative Capital and new cities like Alamein, are for Egypt, not for the benefit of the president.
“Yes, I build presidential palaces and I will continue to build them, but not for myself… I am working to build a new Egypt.
“Most of the presidential palaces in Egypt date back to the age of Mohamed Ali Pasha. The country deserves new ones that reflect Egypt’s growing prestige and influence in the region.”
Al-Sisi said “the rumour-mongers hope their rumours will shake the people’s confidence in me.
“The goal of these lies is to break the public’s will and make you lose hope and confidence.
“We have a very strong army… the strongest army in the region. It is the envy of everyone and we cannot let anyone defame it in any way.
“The road building projects being carried out by the army are estimated at LE175 billion. Projects already implemented are valued at LE3 trillion. Thousands of private contractors are involved in implementing these projects, and the army pays them their dues.”
Al-Ahram political analyst Abdel-Moneim Said compared the media assault on Egypt’s army to hurricane Dorian which hit the Bahamas last week.
“The timing of this wave of attacks is significant. They were launched after a number of successes for the Egyptian state and setbacks for the Muslim Brotherhood,” says Said.
“There is the success of the Egyptian economic reform programme, and of Al-Sisi’s participation at the G7 summit in France. This followed the arrest of a terrorist cell linked to the Muslim Brotherhood in Kuwait, and the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Sudan.”
The attacks, says Said, came in two waves. First there were the videos on social media, and then a second wave led by the Qatar’s Al-Jazeera channel.
President Al-Sisi warned during Saturday’s conference that in the past terrorist attacks have sometimes followed such hostile media campaigns, and urged the public to be extra vigilant.
Al-Sisi told conference participants that “the people have the right to know the facts about national projects and no official, including me, is above questioning.
“The best strategy against such hostile media campaigns,” says Al-Said, “is to create a more open society. These campaigns will have a very limited impact when the public can easily check facts and ask questions without fear.”
In the conference’s evening “Ask the President” session, Al-Sisi answered questions on a variety of topics. He said he was optimistic that long-awaited local council elections will be held early next year.
“I hope parliament will finalise a new law on local councils in its next legislative season. If everything goes smoothly, elections can then be held early next year. My desire is to see at least 25 per cent of seats on councils occupied by young people,” said Al-Sisi.
In 2011 the Administrative Court ruled that local councils be dissolved. The new law will regulate both the election and performance of local councils, giving them greater powers.
The impact of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on Egypt’s quota of Nile water was high on the conference’s agenda. Al-Sisi said the 2011 uprising was largely to blame for the construction of the dam.
“I want to say something to all Egyptians,” he told conference participants. “We paid a heavy price for what happened in 2011, and we cannot repeat this mistake. The construction of dams on the Nile only became possible in 2011. Egypt had been weakened, and this weakness allowed the dam to be built.”
Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri raised Egypt’s concerns over the lack of progress in negotiations with Ethiopia over the dam during last week’s meeting of foreign ministers at the Arab League.
According to Al-Sisi, “there is ongoing coordination between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan in talks over the dam.
“Egypt is seeking an agreement with Ethiopia that minimises the harm caused to Egypt by the dam’s construction. We want to reach agreement on the time period for filling the dam’s reservoir, and fix a timetable that does not compromise Egypt’s quota of water.”
Al-Sisi also addressed the progress of the government’s education reform programme. Egypt has 23 million students enrolled at 50,000 schools, said the president. “The education budget stands at LE130 billion, LE100 billion of which goes in salaries. The figures underline the depth of the challenge we face.” Addressing regional threats, Al-Sisi underlined the importance of reforming religious discourse.
“Much of the turmoil that bedevils the Middle East is due to extremist ideologies and sectarian strife. Look at what happened in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. Sectarian conflicts fuelled by extremist ideologies are behind the destruction of these states.”
Security expert Hussein Abdel-Radi told the conference that three extremist organisations — the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda and Islamic State — dominate the world’s terrorist infrastructure.
“But it is the Muslim Brotherhood that is the mother of all of them. The ideas and thoughts of its founder, Hassan Al-Banna, and its ideologue Sayed Qotb, constitute the constitution of all terrorist movements.”
The eighth National Youth Conference was held at the Manara Centre in New Cairo. It was attended by senior state officials, businessmen and 1,600 young people from across Egypt.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 September, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.