'Don't worry or be afraid,' El Sisi tells Egyptians as economic crisis worsens

Egypt's President says country is suffering but proceeding on the right path

Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria listens as Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi speaks before Christmas mass at the newly inaugurated Cathedral of Nativity in the New Administrative Capital on January 6, 2023. Egyptian Presidency / EPA
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Egyptians should not worry over the economic woes gripping the country, as the government is doing everything it can to deal with the crisis, President Abdel Fattah El Sisi said on Friday.

The Egyptian leader was speaking at the Coptic Orthodox Christmas Mass held at the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ in the New Administrative Capital in the desert east of Cairo.

Egypt's Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7.

Mr El Sisi's attempt to reassure Egyptians about the country's economic situation came after the local currency plunged by about 7 per cent over Wednesday and Thursday in what is effectively the third devaluation of the pound since March 2021.

The rapid slide in the pound's value is one of the main features of Egypt's economic crisis, caused in large part by the Russia-Ukraine war and the coronavirus pandemic before it.

Other symptoms of the ailing economy include a crushing foreign currency shortage, import restrictions and skyrocketing food prices. Inflation is close to 20 per cent, its highest in five years.

“I see that people in Egypt are worried, anxious and scared. I will not say that this is unjustified, but if my assurances have any effect on you, then rest assured: We don't hide anything from you,” said the Egyptian leader, a former army general who took office in 2014.

“God is here. Do you think he will abandon us? He is bigger and dearer than anyone and is trying to do everything that is good [for Egypt],” said Mr El Sisi.

The government is also doing everything it can to shield Egyptians from the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war, he added.

“We are doing well, thanks be to God, although we are suffering. We are suffering, yes, but we should not be scared or worried.”

Mr El Sisi also warned Egyptians against being swayed by what he described as hearsay and rumours, pointing to speculation that his government was planning to partially privatise the Suez Canal as well as other vital state assets to ease the crisis.

“I will be sure to tell you if there's something to be done,” he said.

Egypt last month secured a $3 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. Key conditions attached to the loan include a flexible foreign exchange regime and giving the private sector a bigger role in the economy.

Egypt's Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7. AFP

Since taking office, Mr El Sisi has made a point of attending Christmas Mass as part of his outreach to Egypt's estimated 10 million Christians, who have historically suffered discrimination at the hands of the country's Muslim majority.

The Egyptian leader has endeared himself to his nation's Christian community when, as defence minister, he led the 2013 removal of president Mohammed Morsi, part of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, amid mass protests against the Islamist's divisive, one-year rule.

He has since eased restrictions of the construction of churches and legalised illegally built ones. He also named a Christian as the chief judge of the Supreme Constitutional Court.

However, many Christians in rural areas, particularly in middle and southern Egypt where Christians are a sizeable minority, complain of subtle discrimination tolerated or aided by local officials.

“We need to emphasise on every occasion that we are one — we are one. There is not any form of discrimination among us. I am talking about all of us, not just you,” he said as Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic Orthodox pontiff, stood at his side.

Updated: January 07, 2023, 11:47 AM
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