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The videos that shook the emperor’s throne – Part 1

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi at the House of Representatives in Cairo, Egypt on 2 June 2018 [Egyptian President Office/Apaimages]
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi at the House of Representatives in Cairo, Egypt on 2 June 2018 [Egyptian President Office/Apaimages]

The Egyptians were in a deep sleep for the past seven years, but have woken up to the tremors caused by videos posted on social media by a contractor and actor called Mohamed Ali. In them, he talks about the corruption of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and some army leaders; he speaks from experience over 16 years, during which he worked as a contractor for projects executed by the Armed Forces’ engineering authority. He built presidential palaces, hotels, roads, tunnels and suchlike.

In the film he mentions the names and locations of these buildings, which cost billions of dollars. None of them were needed, and none benefited the Egyptian people. There are dozens of fancy presidential palaces in Egypt, dating back to the time of the monarchy, and they are considered to be some of the finest palaces in the world. The Abdeen Palace and Koubbeh Palace, for example, impressed former US President Bill Clinton during his visit to Egypt. However, it seems that Al-Sisi doesn’t believe that these palaces are good enough for his status, and so has decided to build new palaces for himself, far from the capital and the eyes of the people.

Mohamed Ali revealed that Al-Sisi built six palaces, connected by underground tunnels, in the Camp Huckstep military base in 2014. Five palaces were built in the Fifth Tagamou area, in a complex known as Al-Kayan, and one is used as an unknown residence for the president. Since he staged a coup in 2013, no one knows where Al-Sisi actually lives. This question was raised often during his candidacy campaign, which angered him, as if the question was about military secrets that should not be discussed.

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This is in addition to the palace he is currently building in the proposed new capital of Egypt, which will be far away from the people he is governing. A separation wall has even been built between the new capital and the old capital Cairo, according to satellite images broadcast on Al Jazeera of the palace under construction. The main presidential residence alone is estimated to be 50,000 square metres, which is 10 times larger than the White House. The overall area of the palace site, which is surrounded by an external wall, is approximately 2.3 million square metres. The video also shows a courtyard designed to be the main entrance for the palace, the area of which is 180,000 square metres, making the total area more than 2.5 million square metres.

Such a huge space requires a huge budget. According to regular construction costs in the administrative capital, each floor of the palace will cost the Egyptian treasury about $138 million. This is enough to build 125 schools or 16 hospitals in Egypt, or to improve the railway and repair the trains, which have fairly frequent fatal accidents.

President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, however, believes that building his palaces is more important than schools, hospitals and people’s lives. “What will education do in a lost country?” he once asked.

Moreover, after a series of railway accidents which killed hundreds of people, he said that instead of spending ten billion Egyptian pounds ($570 million) on modernising the railway, he would be better off putting the money in the bank and making interest on it. Clearly, the lives of ordinary people mean nothing to him.

Now the people await Mohamed Ali’s videos eagerly, and with unprecedented passion. Some have said that if he wanted to sell them, he would make more money than the Suez Canal.

Through his films, this man who saw with his own eyes the corruption of the government and dealt with it, which gives his testimony credibility, has managed to expose the coup-led regime. He explains how Al-Sisi has squandered Egypt’s resources and wasted billions in a barren desert to establish the “new administrative capital” which will boast the largest palace in the world, the tallest mosque minaret, the largest church in the east, the tallest tower in Africa, the latest electric train, the biggest theme park, and the largest art and cultural city. In the meantime, the president has removed state subsidies from fuel, electricity, water and food; millions of Egyptians now live below the poverty line, sleeping in graveyards and eating from rubbish trucks.

As for the millions wasted on expanding the Suez Canal, former presidents had already done it, as Mubarak had already carried out three expansion projects and would send his prime minister to their openings. However, since Al-Sisi wants to create false glory and surround himself with a fake halo, he claimed to be building a new Suez Canal, spending over $4 million, which he took from the people in the form of certificates of deposit. However, this project failed, as he admitted himself in a television interview with Osama Kamal, saying that the purpose of the project was to boost the people’s morale.

The actual purpose was for him to portray himself as an emperor, wearing a military uniform studded with medals as he stood on a ship and displaying himself as if he were the Khedive Ismail at the opening of the canal. According to Mohamed Ali, $1.8 million was spent on the latest opening ceremony alone. Al-Sisi delayed the burial of his mother, who died two days before the Suez Canal extension ceremony, and ordered her to be put in a mortuary cabinet until after the celebration was over so as not to ruin his party.

Mohamed Ali was tasked with paving the way to the family cemetery and building a large gate at the cemetery entrance so that Al-Sisi’s mother’s funeral could pass through. This alone cost about $122,500.

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He was also tasked with demolishing the presidential palace in Maamoura and building a new palace because the emperor’s wife did not want to live in the same place that Suzanne Mubarak had lived. Construction cost about $15 million; furniture, carpets, chandeliers and so on were extra. Al-Sisi demanded that it must be ready before Eid because his wife wanted to celebrate the festival there.

This is in addition to a hotel, which cost over $122 million, which Al-Sisi built in a barren area as a courtesy to his friend in the military. When Ali objected to the location and said that it was unsuited to a hotel, he asked why there was such a rush before carrying out feasibility studies for a project of such magnitude and cost; he was told not to interfere in politics and that the president wanted to see construction work begin.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of Ali’s revelations about the corruption within the army, which he talked about in ten videos released over ten days. We waited for an official statement to be issued by the army or the presidency in response to such serious accusations, or even for the parliament to question the Defence Minister or demand that the prosecutor general conduct an investigation so that the law could take its course. This is what happens in respected countries around the world.

However, it did not happen in Egypt, because we live in a quasi-state, as Al-Sisi has said before. Instead, when a lawyer posted on Facebook that he would be filing a suit to the prosecutor general to investigate these claims, he was immediately arrested. One of the pro-state lawyers actually filed a complaint against Mohamed Ali, accusing him of high treason and defamation of the army.

The Egyptian media, with its many channels controlled by the intelligence agency, has been going through an unprecedented crisis and degree of confusion. It was unable, despite its huge resources, to challenge one man who only has a mobile phone camera, with which he was able to attract the attention of millions of Egyptians, and convince them of the veracity of his story which they shared on social media around the world.

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The regime convened a youth conference, which was originally scheduled for December, so that Al-Sisi could respond to the accusations personally. This was despite the fact that, as he claimed, the security agencies had begged him not to talk about the matter. He should have listened to them, as they were sincere in their advice.

He was tense, confused and frustrated, and the fear was apparent on his face. He begged the people and the army not to lose faith in him, saying that the army’s loss of confidence in its commander-in-chief is dangerous. He also scolded the youth for circulating the videos.

Most importantly, he admitted the incident of his mother’s funeral and building the palaces, but said that he would be building more palaces — in a country riddled with debt and dependent on foreign aid — because he is building a new Egypt. This is a catastrophe in itself. He himself makes frequent remarks about being poor and the country not having any money, but he apparently has money to build palaces.

The idea to respond to Mohamed Ali’s accusations in this was not Al-Sisi’s best, and the consequences were not favourable. Aside from anything else, they placed him and Mohamed Ali the contractor on equal footing, which cost Al-Sisi his prestige and status as president.

To be continued…

Read part 2 here

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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