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June 9, 2015

Egypt's President Al-Sisi: a one-year report card

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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Egyptian president Abdulfatah Al-Sisi has faced many challenges during his first year in elected office.

On top of the usual economic, social, infrastructural, cultural and political crises that beset most developing countries, Egypt’s president has also been the target of a well-orchestrated and generously-financed smear campaign, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in the nation’s living memory.

That campaign has been hatched and led by the secretive Muslim Brotherhood International (MBI), a radical Islamist organization with over 80-year history of wielding terrorism as its blunt instrument of choice. The MBI’s political agenda includes establishing its version of a new Caliphate.

Unfortunately the MBI must be taken seriously, as it’s a wealthy organization with members in almost every country; not surprisingly, its greatest concentration of influence is in the Middle East. Among its current major supporters are powerful Turkey, a NATO member, and the wealthy Gulf state of Qatar.

The MBI and its backers have been focusing on the series of court cases against ex-President Mohamed Morsi to smear Al-Sisi, but their version of the truth leaves a great deal omitted.

The facts are that Morsi was acquitted on some charges and found guilty on others; he has received fair trials in normal not special criminal courts; those trials have been open, not secretive; local and international observers were, and still are, attending them; the justice system properly allows Morsi to appeal any court ruling; some of Egypt’s best lawyers are defending him; and there was never a single report of mistreatment concerning him made by any national or international human rights organization.

Despite the disruptive and distracting influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, there are many strong criteria on which to objectively evaluate Al-Sisi’s first year as head of state.

First, and most importantly, he has saved Egypt from the fates of failed statehood and civil war. Neighboring Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen have not been as fortunate and will not recover for years, perhaps decades.

When Egyptians elected Muslim Brotherhood champion Mohamed Morsi as president in June 2012, they did so in a spirit of Arab Spring optimism. But they soon discovered that the MB were determined to turn Egypt into a repressive theocracy, pitting Muslims against Christians, Sunni Muslims against Shia Muslims, and men against women. In the process, the Sinai was opened to terrorists.

And if things didn’t look bad enough, barely five months later on November 22, 2012, Morsi issued a decree appointing himself president with absolute power.

Cheated of their democratic rights and process, protesting Egyptians took to the streets in tens of thousands, their numbers soon swelling to millions. Tragically, scores were mowed down by Muslim Brotherhood militia gunmen. The crime was committed on Morsi’s watch and he was found guilty through responsibility in a legitimate court of law.

Egyptians were now faced with two stark choices – allow Morsi to finish his original 4-year term in office (and risk losing their country to fanaticism); or demand that Morsi hold an early presidential election.

On June 30, 2013 Egyptians made the latter choice. But Morsi and his MB-backed government, not caring if a civil war ensued, refused. Instead, they called on foreign powers for military intervention to keep him in power.

At that moment in history, Egypt’s national army had no choice but to side with millions of pro-democracy citizens who took to the streets in their opposition to religious dictatorship. They did exactly the same in January 2011 when they sided with the people against the then president Hosni Mubarak.

With the fall of Morsi, a Supreme Court judge took over as transitional president. Free elections were held one year later (in June 2014) with international observers present between Al-Sisi and the career leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi. Al-Sisi won with an overwhelming majority.

In a recent column in the Egyptian daily Al-Watan, Cairo University political science professor Dr. Moatazbellah Abdulfatah commented on the uprising of the Egyptian people and the pivotal support of their national army: “Egyptians did the right thing to save their country and perhaps the world. Imagine how many millions of lives could have been saved if the Germans opposed Hitler soon after it was clear that he was turning into a dictator after his election and then leading Germany and the world on a path of death and destruction.”

President Al-Sisi has faced, and still faces, the continuing terrorist campaign orchestrated by the MB, financed by Qatar, and politically sanctioned by Turkey. Adding to his political difficulties is the disturbing fact that terrorists were given safe haven in both countries with the blessing of the US.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s message to the Egyptian people has been, and still is terrifyingly clear: let us rule, or we will kill you.

Its terrorist militias have targeted churches, government buildings, schools, universities, TV stations and electric power installations.

In the process, people have become the primary casualties: the MB has killed judges, army and police personnel, and ordinary citizens – men, women and children.

Thousands have also been injured. And millions more have become used to fearing for their lives as they walk their children to school, take the subway to work, visit relatives on weekends, worship in mosques and churches, or simply go about their daily lives.

While achieving some success in fighting MB terrorists, Al-Sisi has also addressed other important issues.

Egypt now has a progressive modern constitution, written by a broadly representative committee, and approved by a majority referendum. Additionally, for the first time, a redundant upper house has been abolished from its government structure. (Canada could learn the benefits of abolishing its arcane Senate from Egypt.)

This year, Egypt will elect a truly representative lower house and for the first time its members will include a pre-determined number of seats for the politically marginalized groups; women, young people, the handicapped, Christians, and Egyptians living abroad.

In economic development, President Al-Sisi’s government has achieved an impressive list of accomplishments:

  1. A New Suez Canal (NSC) development to double its shipping capacity. The mega-project costs $10 billion and is totally financed by Egyptians through GICs and is almost complete in the record time of one year. It will open this August.
  1. The planning of a free zone and new cities around the NSC that will employ more than one million people over the next 10 years.
  1. Building plans for a new national capital east of Cairo.
  1. Massive investment in infrastructure projects, including 3,000 kilometers of new roads connecting Egypt’s north and south.
  1. The plan to reclaim millions of acres of desert into agriculture.
  1. Completing the largest museum in the world to display thousands of ancient Egyptian artifacts, thus boosting the sagging tourism.
  1. Transforming the port of Domiat on the Mediterranean coast into a modern facility connecting Africa with Europe.
  1. Signing lucrative deals with multinational interests for electrical power generation, gas and oil exploration, and alternative energy sources, including solar and wind generation.
  1. Negotiations (currently underway) for developing nuclear electrical power generation.
  1. Massive upgrading of roads, railways and public mass transit. For example downtown Cairo now has enough parking garages to ease traffic and many street vendors have been relocated to centralized neighborhood markets.
  1. Partnering with the private sector to create urgently needed new jobs for the young, the homeless and the handicapped.
  1. 12.    Credit rating of the country has increased and an annual growth rate reached close to 4%.

In the realm of foreign relations, Egypt now enjoys good-to-excellent standing with most countries, including the US, Russia, France, Italy, Germany and the UK, as well as with many African nations and neighboring Arab states. He did some 20 foreign trips in one year.

Even problems with Ethiopia over water usage from the River Nile have given way to bilateral understanding. Egypt was also the first country to sign a deal with France to buy its Rafale fighter jets.

To combat the growth of radical Islam, Al-Sisi has asked government minsters to work with Cairo’s prestigious Al-Azhar in reaching out to guide Egyptian youth toward the right interpretation of Islam and to train imams in preaching the message of moderate Islam to their congregations.

In the bulging portfolio of social justice, Sisi has accumulated another impressive list in only one year:

  1. He addressed the urgent issue of aid to the poor and increased subsidies to the neediest Egyptians, while reducing handouts to those more able to afford basic goods and services.
  1. Health care funding was increased, especially for treating the widespread affliction of Hepatitis C among the young.
  1. A new ministry for education in the trades has been established.
  1. Millions have been added to the budget for developing marginalized areas of Egypt, including the Sinai.
  1. Direct government support for small-to-medium-sized businesses has been increased to help alleviate chronic unemployment among youth and the poor.
  1. For the first time in Egyptian history – and unique in the world – both minimum and maximum wages have been set by law (although the latter currently applies only to government employees).
  1. Many neglected or stalled low-income housing projects have been completed.
  1. Electrical power generation has been improved and an ascending price scale, where charges are levied according to actual energy consumption, has been put into effect.

As an individual, President Al-Sisi has rapidly become a role model and mentor for his people.

To encourage them to be more generous, he donated half of his monthly salary and half of his personal inheritance to charity; to motivate them toward greater interest in their jobs and work ethics, he starts his day at 7:00 am with frequent on-location field trips to follow up with major infrastructural projects; to inspire a greater appreciation for Egypt’s history, he spearheaded a massive renovation project for historical downtown Cairo; and to reach out to youth, he has supported the development of sport and recreation clubs.

And it seems his strategy of making change by personal example has borne fruit.

Egyptians are more generous today because of Al-Sisi. Statistics reveal that charitable donations have increased overall, ranging from single contributions of less than $1 to a record $100 million recently given by an 80-year old man from the Fayoom Governance, just south of Cairo.

There has also been an impressive growth of in-kind charity. Selim Sahab, an accomplished conductor at the famed Cairo Opera House, has been working hard with thousands of homeless children to provide them with choral training, homes and education. His choirs recently held several performances at the COH to capacity audiences.

Al-Sisi holds the same high expectations of his carefully chosen assistants as he does of himself; if they do not perform up to standard, he fires them.

His prime minister, for example, is a former top CEO, a hard-working career engineer, and fluent in French. And some of Egypt’s finest minds have been recruited into a variety of other ministerial posts. The governor of Egypt’s National Bank is one of the country’s top bankers and new national security advisors have a similarly outstanding track record.

And there is no single credible report on Al-Sisi interfering in freedom of speech, media or in the justice system. On a given day newspaper editorials and TV talk shows criticize Al-Sisi and his government far more than they praise them. And there are some 100 political parties freely operating including the powerful Islamist party Al-Noor.

Abdulfatah Al-Sisi’s one-year report card is not perfect, but still very impressive.

That is why – with the exception of Muslim Brotherhood members and a few opponents on the extreme political left – he still has the overwhelming support of the Egyptian populace.

This includes not just ordinary people getting by every day, but also academics, lawyers, artists, writers, business people, women, youth, the military and police, churches and mosques.

After one tumultuous year, Egyptians are still all on Al-Sisi's side and there’s no sign of that changing anytime soon.

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry, an Egyptian-born Canadian, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo. He can be reached at

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