President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi held an “Ask the President” session during the National Youth Conference on Wednesday; a move seemingly unprecedented for an Egyptian president. The questions, too, were unusually straightforward; no one was beating around the bush.
What the Q&A session signified in terms of internal policies was somewhat a new strategy for bringing the people and their president on closer terms. The presidential palace was opening wide, and the president was going to meet the people half way.
The questions presented during the session were a positive response in terms of the strategy employed: people were taking it seriously. They were not thinking of the gesture as a ruse, or as a means of calming down a people struck with difficult reforms. The questions were genuine, and even more genuinely, the questions were attributed to the names of their seekers; they were not anonymous.
A man named Sayed Ali Badran from Cairo struck an eloquent question: “Why do you keep insisting on sacrificing your people for the sake of difficult economic reforms that those before you refused to so much as consider whereas you and this generation will go down in history as being the only ones responsible for this burden. Isn’t it better to distribute the burden over the coming generations? Hasn’t this generation had enough to bear?”
“Those before us didn’t take these measures,” the president calmly replied. “So tell me, if we weren’t doing what we are doing now, what would Egypt be like? Instead of answering the question by saying that the measures were inevitable, let’s study the consequences of not moving forth with them. We always see the measures’ positive results, but they’re not palpable. But if we hadn’t taken those measures, which we started in November 2016, what would’ve happened? How much would the Central Bank of Egypt’s reserves be at had the measures been foregone? What about the imports list which is growing and demanding more dollars, and which would in turn spike the dollar’s price further and further?... We took the step and suffered because of it but we’re not lost; the country is not lost. Had we not taken these measures, imagine the number of employees working in factories, sitting about on the streets, without being able to provide for their families. Now they have some, it’s not enough, but if we hadn’t taken the measures he wouldn’t have anything at all.”
Yes, the president hopes that he would be able to bear the burden of the reforms alone; he hopes that his successor will be able to lead the nation in a much simpler manner.
“Having moved through with the measures, some are not able to bear it and revolt against them. If we hadn’t moved through with the measures, no one would be able to bear it and the nation would be in ruins. They are both tough scenarios, but one of them leads to ruin and the other doesn’t,” Sisi explained.
In his calm tone and manner, the president answered in all simplicity, emphasizing multiple times through that the measures, as tough as they are, were the lesser evil. “There was no other path,” he reiterated.
Another participant opted to ask why the population was not involved in the decrees issued; why does no one explain to us these decrees? Sherif Atef Abdelsalam asked, “Why don’t we have a government representative that comes out and explains the reasons for inflation or governmental changes, with numbers and facts? The minister of transportation did that when the metro tickets’ prices rose, I watched the video on social media websites. Why didn’t that happen before?” Abdelsalam asked. “Also, in terms of the educational system, we need someone to explain its advantages and the new mechanisms that will be implemented before they’re implemented.”
The man also noted to the president that “reforming is much harder than building, because it needs twice the effort,” and asked to see some improvements in the prices of food stuffs within the coming years.
“When do we speak about problems? We speak about them a lot. But when does the citizen begin to notice?” The president stated, “the citizen begins to notice when the topic begins to directly affect him or her. Many officials spoke about the issue of pricing.”
The president explained in response to Abdelsalam’s question that the prices in Egypt do not represent the real value of the product. “The government in Egypt does not provide anything with its real prices,” he emphasized. Sisi also compared subsidies in Egypt with those of other African countries, without mentioning any specific country, saying that African countries do not subsidize anything.
Sisi explained that the government in Egypt subsidizes bread, gas, electricity and water. He explained that while a loaf of bread costs 60 piasters, the government subsidizes it so that a family of five receive five loaves for LE 2. “You don’t understand how strenuous that is when you do it for 80 million people,” Sisi said.