Egypt’s El-Sisi Seeks Support for Infrastructure Drive
The president is learning there is no public support without budget transparency
[CAIRO] President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and his allies are rebutting allegations of official corruption that surfaced last week when an aggrieved builder accused army officers and Egypt’s commander-in-chief of using their coercive power and control over state infrastructure to order the construction of private residences and businesses at public expense.
Mohammed Ali, a 41-year-old contractor who had worked for 15-years on military projects, says he’s still owed over $13.5m for a dozen villas he built for el-Sisi and his army associates.
Ali has posted photos related to residential construction for Egypt’s top leadership in el-Ma’ Moura (Alexandria), Helmiet El-Zaitoun (El-Zahraa City Compound) Al-Hikestep, Sheraton Al-Matar, El-Nozha, Cairo and at Marassi North Coast, in the Matrouh Governorate near the Libyan border.
In his first YouTube video released on September 3, Ali looks directly into the camera, challenging el-Sisi in a way that few residents in Egypt would dare to do.
“How did you spend all this money from the people’s money and then say that we are destitute?” asks Ali. “Mr. President, do you have the moral courage to tell your generals, we are very poor”?
“Can you give Egyptians the pictures of your villa in the area of Mamoura [Alexandria] and tell them that it is not registered in my name but in the name of the armed forces?”
Additionally, Ali says he was ordered to perform a cleanup job for the cemetery where el-Sisi’s mother is buried and cheated on the construction of a hotel in suburban Cairo conceived as a vehicle for private profit for a senior security official.
He also charges that first lady Entissar Amer el-Sisi requested more than 25 million Egyptian pounds for renovations to a presidential villa at el-Ma’ Moura, near Alexandria.
El-Sisi addressed the allegations directly at last weekend’s “National Youth Conference,” which pro-government voices cite as proof that the administration has nothing to hide from the Egyptian public.
“I am building presidential palaces,” el-Sisi told conference attendees last Saturday. “They are not mine; I am establishing a new state, and I am doing so in the name of Egypt.”
The president justified expenditure on executive mansions as part of his “state-building” project in the New Administrative Capital rising in the desert 45 kilometers – 28 miles – east of Cairo.
“I am building a cultural and artistic city that will be the largest [city] in the world,” the president said. “What has been circulating on social media since the past two weeks aims at undermining the people’s confidence in me but to assure every Egyptian person at his home, I say this [misleading and fake news] is a mere lie and a slander.”
El-Sisi’s supporters say there is no contradiction between the president’s acknowledgment that he is building new residences in the New Administrative Capital, New Alamein City, and other locations. He insists that Ali is mischaracterizing the projects.
“When the president said the information was correct, he meant that it was possible to use the right information to make a fake narrative,” said pro-Sisi Cairo attorney Mahmoud Ibrahim. “Ali is building a misleading narrative based on correct information.”
“Look at how Ahmed Moussa [a prime time TV talk show host] was able to get Abd al-Khali, Ali’s own father to explain that there was a contract with the army but what his son said about the money was all wrong,” Ibrahim told The Media Line.
Like Abd al-Khaliq, the Egyptian Federation of Construction and Building Contractors has moved to repudiate el-Sisi’s unanticipated nemesis, a civilian contractor.
“Egyptian contractors love their country and are key partners in all major development projects implemented by the state,” said Daker Abdallah, a director in the powerful building federation. “One of the conditions for membership is good reputation and behavior, traits which clearly do not apply to Ali.”
Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat, chairman of the Social Democratic Reform and Development, told The Media Line that it’s unrealistic for el-Sisi to demand public support for his administration’s infrastructure drive without budget transparency and a free media.
“The remarks made by President el-Sisi at the latest Youth Conference entail a moment of reflection and consideration,” said El-Sadat. “But how can we trust each other, when there is no true accountability?”
“Buildings and construction projects are not enough to build a nation,” added the 64-year old nephew of former president Anwar Sadat who dropped out of the 2018 presidential race here after raising concerns over the flouting of electoral rules and state obstruction of the registration of campaigns other than that of the president. “Poor management of resources and the absence of priority-setting will remain our greatest challenges, as long as the society remains outside crucial discussions on its needs.”
Younger opposition figures living outside Egypt are more direct in their criticism president and more likely to view the “That’s enough Sisi” hashtag campaign – now shared by over a million Egyptians on twitter as a defining moment in the erosion of support for a leader who had been seen as personally principled and uncorrupted even as he moved to purchase expensive weapons systems and launched his costly mega-projects drive.
“Mohamed Ali has been able to show how fragile and weak the Egyptian political system is,” said Ahmed Samih, 40, a director at the Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-violence Studies, a nonprofit human rights organization shut down by Cairo authorities in 2016.
“He is mobilizing ordinary non-politicized Egyptians and fully summoning them in a smart and successful campaign that is differentiating from what we the Egyptian intellectuals in the opposition have done,” Samih told The Media Line from the safety of Tallinn, Estonia.
“These videos drive home the point that the military must abandon its economic activity and devote itself to the basic tasks of protecting the homeland and protecting Egypt’s civilians and democracy,” Samih concluded.