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What did Sisi say, and what did he mean?

April 8, 2024 at 4:30 pm

People celebrate after Egypt’s incumbent President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi was reelected to a third, six-year term in office in Cairo, Egypt on December 18, 2023 [Mohamed Elshahed – Anadolu Agency]

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s speeches are always filled with unmistakable signals about the country’s political and economic future. His inauguration speech a few days ago, and the celebratory ceremonies that accompanied it, are perhaps the clearest yet about the policies and orientations of a man from military intelligence who became minister of defence and then overthrew and replaced the president of the republic who trusted and promoted him.

Sisi duly won a third presidential term — there was no credible opposition candidates — after pushing through constitutional amendments in 2019 which allowed him to stand for election again, and extended presidential terms from four to six years. He will thus remain in power until 2030.

The most prominent part of the inauguration ceremony was Al-Sisi’s procession through the New Administrative Capital east of Cairo, surrounded by dozens of motorcycles and accompanied by many luxury cars, as well as security and signal-jamming vehicles belonging to the Republican Guard.

The ceremony saw a massive Egyptian flag raised on the longest flagpole — an egotistical 208 metres — in the world; with aircraft flying over the capital; a wreath laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; artillery firing a 21-gun salute; and a military band playing martial music following the president’s arrival at the new headquarters of the House of Representatives, three times larger than the old building in central Cairo. The main hall can accommodate a thousand members, with administrative offices for 3,250 employees.

Egypt has not seen such a ceremony throughout the republican era, which started with the 1952 Revolution. The inaugurations of Presidents Mohamed Naguib, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, as well as Mohamed Morsi, were mostly simple affairs.

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The public disapproved of such ostentation saw it ridiculed, not least because it came days after Al-Sisi called on the Egyptian people to practice austerity, advising them to use only small amounts of sugar on kunafa, a dessert that Egyptians love, and other sweets. He said that Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly is going to get a million tons of sugar because of the shortage in Egypt. (Watch

This shortage has already lasted for months, forcing the price of sugar up to more than 50 pounds ($1.10) per kilogram, up from 27 pounds per kilo. In fact, the prices of all commodities are extremely high and the value of the Egyptian pound has plummeted, losing two-thirds of its value against the US dollar.

When Al-Sisi became president, the exchange rate was seven pounds to the dollar; today it is 47.35.

The paradox, according to political expert Hamdi Al-Masry, is that Al-Sisi seems to be influenced by the legacy of Khedive Ismail, who ruled Egypt in 1863. Ismail went into excessive debt as he focused on urbanisation and building palaces and non-development projects similar to the New Administrative Capital. In the meantime, he had no serious policies to boost people’s lives or revive the national currency. He never understood that the strength of any country comes from the strength, prestige and respect of its people and that countries cannot be developed with parties, lavish urban projects, or loans and aid.

The estimated cost of the first phase of the new capital is $45 billion, according to Egypt’s State Information Service. Meanwhile, the total external debt had risen at the end of December 2023 to $168bn.

In addition to Al-Sisi’s new palace in the new capital, the country has to maintain Al-Ittihadiya Palace east of Cairo; Al-Qubba Palace in the historic Hadayek Al-Qubba neighbourhood; Abdeen Palace in the Abdeen neighbourhood in central Cairo; Al-Safa Palace; and Ras Al-Tin Palace in Alexandria, in addition to Al-Alamein Palace on the Mediterranean coast.

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The first of the signals in his speech was that Al-Sisi began with a Qur’anic verse from Surah Al Imran: “O Allah, Master of Sovereignty. You grant sovereignty to whom You will, and You strip sovereignty from whom you will. You honour whom you will, and You humiliate whom you will. In Your hand is all goodness. You are capable of all things.” The president often turns to religious discourse. He concluded the speech with another Qur’anic verse, from Surah Yusuf: “My Lord, You have given me some authority, and You taught me some interpretation of events. The Originator of the heavens and the earth. You are my Protector in this life and the Hereafter. Receive my soul in submission and admit me into the company of the righteous.”

Both verses refer to sovereignty, and his message to the people of Egypt is that he has control of sovereignty in the republic and no one will remove him. This contradicts the basic principles of politics, such as the peaceful transfer of power and respect for the will of the electorate. According to Al-Masry, the message to the outside world is that Egypt under Al-Sisi is a new state.

A clear signal to both the Egyptians and the outside world was that Al-Sisi stood between the Minister of Defence, Lieutenant General Mohamed Zaki, and the Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Army, Lieutenant General Osama Askar: he and the army are in this together. The army is the only institution capable of implementing his agenda and protecting it at the same time. It is also the only institution that commands absolute confidence, in the absence of political and popular outlets, believes political researcher Muhamad Anan.

The third signal was intended to weaken the symbolism and centrality of the historic capital Cairo, by moving the government headquarters to the new capital, ending 1,150 years of Cairo being at the heart of government. The ancient city will be emptied of its government departments, because its 22 million people represent a threat to any ruler if protests erupt. In other words, the new capital will be like a fortified castle, where Al-Sisi can rule behind a security barrier, away from any possible popular anger that may attempt to repeat the 25 January 2011 Revolution that overthrew Mubarak.

The president failed to mention anything about political reform or a serious breakthrough regarding the domestic situation; or any appointment of a presidential deputy, or any change in the make-up of the government, all of which had been hinted at by officials close to the authorities.

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Observers say that the seven promises made by Al-Sisi are vague and do not include any serious headline items that can take the country out of its political, economic and social crises to a more comfortable position, especially since the president does not face real competition for power. The opposition has disappeared completely, with its leaders and influential members behind bars.

The promises included the priority of protecting and preserving Egypt’s national security; completing and deepening the national dialogue; adopting strategies that maximise Egypt’s economic capabilities and resources; adopting comprehensive institutional reform to ensure financial discipline; maximising the benefit of Egypt’s human resources; supporting social safety networks; and continuing to implement the strategic plan for urban development.

Missing from Al-Sisi’s speech were vital concerns related to the situation in Gaza, Sinai, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile, foreign debt, issues of freedom, national reconciliation, the arrest of thousands of innocent people, the imprisonment of journalists, the blocking of the media, and restrictions on civil society.

Egyptian human rights activist Gamal Eid recalled a strange irony, during his sarcastic comment on the inauguration ceremony, which he posted on X. He asked a rhetorical question about whether people had noticed the luxurious ceremony at the same time that the government had reduced the official weight of a loaf of bread from 110 grams to 90. (

Meanwhile, human rights activist Bahi El-Din Hassan noted that the ridiculous ceremony took place in the country with the second largest amount of debt in the world, according to data from the International Monetary Fund. (,

“Al-Sisi told his people that they are very, very poor, and asked them not to compare their lives against the well-being of the developed world, adding that the country is dependent on aid, loans, and deposits,” said journalist Jamal Sultan on Facebook. “However, he had a new a parliament building constructed that is larger and more luxurious than the American Congress and the British House of Commons. He ordered the construction of headquarters for the ministry of defence larger and more luxurious than the Pentagon, which heads NATO. He has a government palace ten times larger than the White House, and a Cabinet headquarters that is larger and more luxurious than the headquarters of all the governments of the European Union. How can he explain his motives for all of these things?”

These motives, according to Annan, may be an attempt to promote the new republic that Al-Sisi is calling for, even as the state is continuing with the same policies that it has adopted over the past ten years, with the same speeches, statements and slogans. He appeals to people’s emotions, but neither promises nor delivers realistic results.

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