Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El Sisi said he intends to call for “political dialogue” as the country faces new economic challenges caused by the fallout from Russia's war in Ukraine.
Mr El Sisi made the surprise announcement at a meeting on Thursday with newspaper editors and talk show hosts during a visit to southern Egypt to inspect an agricultural project. His office released a video clip of his comments late on Thursday night.
“Frankly, we need a political dialogue that is compatible with the notion of building or launching the new republic,” he said, without giving details.
The term “new republic”, coined last year by pro-government media outlets and later adopted by the government, refers to the country under Mr El Sisi's rule.
Since taking office in 2014, he has launched a drive to overhaul the economy, upgrade infrastructure — including building new bridges, thousands of kilometres of motorways and new cities.
Mr El Sisi said he would release details of the proposed dialogue later this month.
While it is not clear who will participate in the dialogue or what its aim is, the proposal comes at a time when the economy is reeling from the fallout of the war in Ukraine and as most Egyptians struggle with increasing food and energy prices.
“The current crisis is extremely brutal,” Mr El Sisi said, pointing out that it hit at a time when the country was emerging from an economic slump caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr El Sisi has, in the past, publicly stated his disdain for politics, saying his overriding priority was to feed Egypt’s 103 million people and provide them with decent housing, adequate medical care and education.
Parliament is packed with his supporters. While there are many political parties, none has any following to speak of, or is able to offer alternative policies or effectively challenge those of the government. Street protests are effectively banned.
The media is under government control or toes the official line, leaving social media as perhaps the only forum for alternative views.
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However, many Egyptians see Mr El Sisi as a no-nonsense leader who has worked relentlessly to modernise the country, overhaul the economy and improve a wide range of services.
He has acknowledged that Egyptians paid a “cruel bill” for the economic reforms he introduced in 2016, including new taxes, the removal of subsidies on essential foodstuffs and fuel and devaluing the currency.
On Thursday, he credited those reforms for Egypt successfully weathering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economy, which showed growth at a time when the economies of most countries in the region contracted.