It has been two years since Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi took office as president, with Wednesday marking the official second half of his term. Over the past two years, Egypt has witnessed several achievements and events, most of which were unprecedented and would not have happened if it had not been for Al-Sisi himself.
In his latest televised interview, which aired on 3 June, Al-Sisi reviewed his two years as president, during which he discussed what was achieved, what challenges Egypt faces now, and how he plans to overcome them.
During his interview, Al-Sisi stated that there is nothing Egyptians cannot face or overcome if they all have one stance and one target, which is to work for the sake of the country. He also alluded to the peoples’ responsibility in combating the ”forces of evil”, adding that Egyptians already know what, or who, they are.
Among Al-Sisi’s many achievements, some were firsts for the country.
- Security storming of the Press Syndicate
Up until recently, the Press Syndicate had never been stormed by security forces. This event, however, was not the first violation against press freedom in Egypt, but it was the first explicit attack against this institution.
On 1 May, security forces stormed the syndicate to arrest journalists Amr Badr and Mahmoud Al-Saqa, stating they had an arrest warrant issued for them. The two journalists were demonstrating in front of the syndicate in opposition of the demarcation of the maritime borders agreement with Saudi Arabia.
The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) denounced the actions of the security forces and released a press statement in which it described the actions of the security forces as ”negligence of law”.
The incident resulted in a severe backlash, encouraging political forces to join journalists in a sit-in outside the Press Syndicate in protest against the Ministry of Interior’s actions.
The state’s battle with journalists became explicit for the first time, with the Press Syndicate forming a general assembly to discuss the clash with the Interior Ministry. The main decisions that were reached included dismissing Minister of Interior Magdy Abdel Ghaffar and demanding an official apology from the president.
Additionally, the Press Syndicate’s head, Yehia Qalash, as well as two other senior members, will stand trial on charges of harbouring wanted journalists inside the syndicate’s headquarters, as well as spreading false news.
Approximately 20 journalists are currently behind bars, and the crackdown on journalists has only increased since Al-Sisi took office as president, reaching its peak with the storming of the Press Syndicate.
- Dismissing an official from a monitoring body without parliament’s approval
Al-Sisi decided to dismiss Hisham Geneina from his post as the head of the Central Auditing Organization (CAO) after the latter revealed an alleged EGP 600bn corruption scandal in 2015.
A statement released by the general prosecutor’s office claimed that Geneina magnified the extent of state corruption by including money from previous years in his 2015 report.
What made Geneina’s dismissal by Al-Sisi unprecedented was that it was legal. In July 2015, he Al-Sisi announced a new law that stipulates he has the right to dismiss the heads of monitoring bodies. The law passed after it was revised by the legislation committee in the state’s council and came into effect before the current parliament was formed.
Hesham Geneina was appointed head of the CAO in 2012 by former president Mohamed Morsi. Since his appointment, he was involved in several conflicts with both the Interior Ministry and the Judges Club, as none were willing to disclose their budgets.
Geneina was also accused of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood organisation, to which he responded that it was an ”inappropriate” accusation.
- Negotiating Egyptian territories
In early April, the Egyptian cabinet announced that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir would be officially recognised as part of Saudi Arabia following a maritime border demarcation agreement with the Saudi king. This move sparked nationwide debate during which random arrests were made. Activists protested the decision on 25 April, accusing Al-Sisi of selling the Egyptian islands in exchange for Saudi financial assistance. The state responded by arresting activists and some journalists.
In his 3 June interview, Al-Sisi said the final decision on the islands is awaiting ratification from parliament. He added that he would also discuss the maritime borders with Greece because Egypt is missing out on a major chance to mine for metals in the Mediterranean and Red seas.
- A clash with the European Parliament
In March, the European Parliament slammed Egypt’s regime for severe human rights violations. They discussed reported cases of violations, focussing primarily on the death of Italian PHD student Giulio Regeni.
In a plenary session that was held in May, the majority of the Members of European Parliament (MEPs) voted in favour of the proposed resolution that recommended an EU-wide embargo on the export of any form of military aid to Egypt.
- Donate to dig an ineffective New Suez Canal
At the beginning of Al-Sisi’s term, the president decided to inaugurate a national project that, according to him, would bring Egypt billions of pounds in hard currency. The New Suez Canal was the first national project to be built with donations from Egyptians.
Al-Sisi explained in his latest interview that the project was not only economically feasible, but it was also a good way of helping Egyptians believe they are capable of doing anything.
For the Egyptian people to contribute in the national project of the New Suez Canal, they had to buy investment certificates from banks with a 12% interest rate. While this venture is profitable for Egyptians who invested in the canal, due to the low income of the canal, the state may have to pay this interest. This would lead to less income for the state, making the canal unprofitable.
- The foreign currency crisis
Over the past two years, an economic crisis has hit the country, severely depleting cash reserves and causing the rate of the US dollar to rise significantly.
Egypt is currently witnessing the lowest cash reserves in its history. During former president Hosni Mubarak’s rule, foreign exchange reserves reached approximately EGP 37bn. The reserves have now declined to EGP 17bn. When factoring in the sum of donations and deposits Egypt receives, the Egyptian pound is on a downward trend, causing further discrepancies with the US dollar.
When he first took office, Al-Sisi stated there would be a significant improvement in the economic climate, implicitly blaming the Muslim Brotherhood for the severe decline in the Egyptian economy.
Under current circumstances, however, the economy is no better, tourism rates have fallen below those during Morsi’s term, the rates of imports are still high and the Suez Canal is not helping the economy. This has sparked a lot of speculation amid activists who believe the New Suez Canal is economically unfeasible and is a waste of Egypt’s resources.