El Sisi says Egypt’s recovery needs time and patience

Presidential candidate says costly food and energy subsidies will have to go, but rules out drastic changes.
Abdel Fattah El Sisi, Egypt’s former army chief and leading presidential candidate, gave his first television interview since announcing his candidacy on May 4, 2014. AFP
Abdel Fattah El Sisi, Egypt’s former army chief and leading presidential candidate, gave his first television interview since announcing his candidacy on May 4, 2014. AFP

CAIRO // The former army chief and leading presidential candidate Abdel Fattah El Sisi has warned Egyptians they will must be patient and work hard to salvage their economy after three years of unrest.

The retired field marshal, who ousted the Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in July, said foreign debt and subsidies costs ate away much of the budget, but ruled out drastic subsidy cuts.

Mr El Sisi is expected to win the May 26-27 election against his only rival, the leftist Hamdeen Sabbahi, amid calls for a strong leader who can restore stability.

But on Tuesday he presented a bleak vision for the short term, and urged against protests that he said added burdens on the state amid persistent demonstrations by Mr Morsi’s Islamist supporters and threats of further labour strikes.

“I don’t sleep, and neither will you,” he said in the second part of a television interview aired by two private television channels.

“You have a country that is being lost, a nation that is threatened,” he said of the economy. “How do you talk to me about protest. I say: people beware, we have something that is being lost.”

Egypt had been slowly recovering from a sharp drop in foreign investments and tourism after a 2011 uprising that overthrew strongman Hosni Mubarak, when the military toppled Mr Morsi last year.

Mr Morsi’s overthrow ignited a new wave of unrest from Islamists in which at least 1,400 people have been killed, and a militant campaign that left almost 500 security personnel dead.

The unrest had badly hit the key tourism sector and left the economy propped by billions of dollars in aid from Gulf Arab countries.

“What will be given to Egypt is important and could be a lot,” he said when asked if more aid would come.

Mr El Sisi discussed his economic programme, promising to speed up projects while urging Egyptians to conserve energy use amid widespread power cuts.

He also ruled out drastic cuts to food and energy subsidies, which he said cost the state 200 billion Egyptian pounds (Dh104.48bn) a year.

“You can’t finish subsidies at once, no one can endure that,” he said, but when asked if the economic situation would improve in two years he said: “Yes.”

Mr Morsi’s government had been negotiating a US$4.8 billion (Dh17.62bn) International Monetary Fund loan partly conditioned on overhauling the subsidies system.

The interim military-installed government has said it would phase out the reforms.

Foreign policy

Mr El Sisi also said in the interview that he would not receive an Israeli prime minister without concessions to Palestinians in peace talks.

“Let them just make us happy by giving something for the Palestinians,” he said when asked if he would receive an Israeli prime minister or visit the country if elected.

Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, in 1979, but ties remained formally cold over Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.

Mr El Sisi suggested Israel should agree first to a Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

US-brokered talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed last month, with both sides blaming each other for the failure.

The Egyptian military is engaged in a counter insurgency campaign against militants in the Sinai Peninsula near Israel’s border who have killed hundreds of security personal, and also attacked Israel.

Israel has also voiced support for a crackdown by Egypt on smuggling tunnels linking Sinai with the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Hamas militant movement.

Hamas has been banned in Egypt and its militants are accused of involvement in attacks and prison breaks in the country during the 2011 uprising.

Scores of its alleged militants are standing trial, in absentia, with the now detained Mr Morsi on related charges.

Mr El Sisi said the military’s campaign had destroyed most of the smuggling tunnels to Gaza and dried up Hamas’s profits from the contraband.

But he refused to say whether Hamas “opposed” Egypt.

“I want to tell Egyptians: don’t let the situation and feelings against Hamas affect your historic position on the Palestinian cause.”

* Agence France-Presse

Published: May 8, 2014 04:00 AM

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