The “new republic” is the motto of the national project that Al-Sisi has been working on since he took office in order to allow Egypt to stand on firm grounds, providing a dignified life for more than 103 million Egyptians. In doing so, he has been in a race against time to confront huge challenges on nearly all levels.
The political turmoil that rocked the region in 2011, with several popular revolts against leaders who had been in power for decades, resulted in a state of instability that lasted for years. This outcome was a sharp economic depression and a steep fall in Egypt’s income from nearly all sources, as well as its reserves.
In remarks he delivered to editors of newspapers and presenters of popular talk shows on 21 April, President Al-Sisi reminded the public of how terrorist organisations managed to build a large-scale infrastructure in Sinai, even years before the 25 January, 2011 Revolution.
The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group, after their removal from office in July 2013, sought to build an alliance with those same terrorist groups in Sinai in a failed attempt to come back to power. They refused to recognise that the vast majority of Egyptians had rejected their rule, which had pushed the country to the brink of a civil war.
Fighting vicious terrorist organisations was no easy task, and hundreds of heroic army and police officers lost their lives together with innocent civilians. The days when explosions rocked police headquarters in Cairo and other major cities, as well as assassination attempts were made on top officials, are now long gone. Even in Sinai terrorist attacks have nearly stopped. Before achieving that level of security, any talk of economic reform or restructuring would have meant little.
At the same time, the decaying state of the country’s infrastructure could have in no way suited the ambitious plans the government had to revitalise and modernise the economy. Working on improving power stations, and ensuring that electricity was provided on a constant, 24/7 basis was not only an economic requirement, but also a popular demand that stood as a litmus test in the people’s relation with the government. In 2022, and after several mega power projects were built, stable electricity is not only available to all Egyptian homes and industries, it is also available for export to nearby countries.
Roads, ports, airports, bridges, new cities were constructed in record time. As Al-Sisi stated, the reason for working fast on those many projects at the same time was that the gap between the people’s reality and their needs was very wide. More than one million acres of desert land were reclaimed to provide much needed agricultural products. Meanwhile, Al-Sisi recognised the tough conditions many of Egypt’s poor suffer, and launched several social programmes that aim at improving the lives of nearly 60 million Egyptians, particularly in rural areas that had long been ignored.
Without such achievements, it would have been impossible for Egypt to sustain its economy and, equally important, to survive the two very difficult crises that hit the world over the past three years: the Covid-19 pandemic, and the more recent Russia-Ukraine war. Both were enough to slow down the entire world economy, but Egypt was among a very small number of countries that managed to maintain a positive growth rate nevertheless. The recent World Economic Outlook report issued by the IMF predicted an increasing growth rate in 2022, though it will probably go down in 2023 because of the effects of the Ukraine war.
After standing on solid ground on both the economic and security fronts, the time has obviously come for similar political reforms, starting with the “national dialogue” the president suggested in his recent statements. The Egyptian government has nothing to fear, and the president has enough confidence in the support he enjoys among Egyptians despite difficult economic reforms that started with floating the local currency in November 2016.
What is likely to make such dialogue more productive and promising is the release this week of over 40 political prisoners who had been in held in pretrial detention on charges of spreading false news and abusing social media. This is an extremely important confidence-building measure, and has no doubt resulted in the families and friends of the people in question feeling much joy and happiness. More releases were promised in the near future, and the president said he would reveal more details about his initiative for political dialogue when he meets with Egyptian families for Iftar this week.
The president has made it clear that he is not against freedom of expression and the right of every Egyptian, man and woman, to their own views. Exceptional measures had been taken in order to ensure what Al-Sisi described as the one thing that all Egyptians must agree to: to maintain the integrity and security of the country. From this point on, there will be plenty of room in the “new republic” for debate and disagreement, as enshrined in the Egyptian Constitution and expressed in the Human Rights Strategy sponsored by the president and launched in September.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.