It's 2018: Live from exile in Dubai, it's Sisi on Sisi
DUBAI, UAE - For every Sisi action, there would be a reaction. Many understood this.
Having escaped legal proceedings in Egypt, he has hunkered down in an opulent Dubai penthouse suite where he chose to tell his tale through the prism of a mind God sent to protect Egypt. Middle East Eye was given exclusive international access. This is Sisi on Sisi on the eve of his birthday no less.
MEE: Thank you for meeting with us today, sir. Enjoying your stay in Dubai?
Sisi: You are welcome, Amr. Truly enjoying my stay. Dubai dates are superior and with no shortages of milk, I enjoy delicious breakfasts. [He chuckles at the self-effacing joke, a technique used to disarm the reporter]
The evil people will have you believe their untruths. I am certain, as a seasoned journalist, you know I am a man whose words are awaited by the greatest philosophers and presidents. [Adjusting himself in a gold-fringed chair, one which does not speak of a president who had been willing to sell himself ]
So let’s get down to it: what questions do you have for me, son? [Ignoring the fact the reporter is neither his son, nor remotely young enough to be]
MEE: Sir, in an irony not missed by many, you were removed from power on 3 July 2018, the same day you removed Mohamed Morsi five years earlier as the largest protests in Egypt’s modern history swept the nation. Who do you think is responsible?
Sisi: [With an impatient look] Let us be clear here with the entire world, not just Egyptians: Egypt is the cradle of civilisation and this makes us the target of conspiracies near and far.
This illegal coup is the embodiment of hatred for all that is just, it is yet another attempt to derail my road map, one that led to unprecedented prosperity and stability. Those men who hold the Quran in one hand and the gun in the other are the ones responsible.
Egyptians, kind-hearted and deeply religious by nature, mistakenly believed they are following God’s words in giving me this short break from power. [Sly smile envelopes his face]
But I plan on collecting a pound from every Egyptian and together we will beg our way out of this crisis. One Egyptian atop another and before you know it Egypt will be as big as the world.
MEE: This brings several interesting questions to the table, Mr President. You mention prosperity, yet 15 months after the beginning of your term, more than 50 percent of youth hovered near or below the poverty line with 26.3 percent of them unemployed. In fact, according to the World Bank, that figure was likely significantly higher in the 15-24 age bracket at 42 percent. So, Mr Sisi, of what prosperity do you speak?
Sisi: [His eyes linger for 15 seconds of silence, after which he crosses his legs] These so-called “facts” you speak about are well understood to be propaganda by the unmentionable group. World Bank or this Central Agency for Public Mobilisations and Statistics are well-known dens for such types, we know this. [His words ring loudly in the cavernous suite]
Did you forget my brilliant plan to provide Egypt’s youth with cars, complete with fridges, to sell fruits and vegetables?
MEE: No sir. As journalists, we are in the business of remembering. Three months after the promises that they would be arriving “soon” there was nary a car to be found. Instead, we found 60,000 of those aforementioned youths in prisons during the so-called Year of Youth. Is that what you meant by 2016 being the Year of Youth, sir?
In fact, Nashwa El Hofy, your representative on the presidential pardon commission, celebrated youth by clarifying towards the end of that year that pardons “would not include Ahmed Maher and Alaa Abdel Fatah…nor the Muslim Brotherhood”. Was this merely a way to utilise the 13 new prisons built during your era?
Sisi: [While awkwardly uncrossing legs, he knocks over a pristine cup of tea on the table before him] Look young man, [enunciating the phrase slowly for emphasis], the business of protecting our nation from those brainwashed by Western values and sweet nothings of democracy is a tough one. Everything comes at a cost and terrorism comes in many different shapes and sizes.
These young ones don’t understand how difficult a father has it, but explaining this will be a top priority upon my return. After all, surely, you understand Egyptians are the light of eyes. Despite Dubai’s wonderful dates, I am blind without my Egyptian children. [He emits a nearly imperceptible sigh of deep relief]
MEE: You brought us to our next topic, sir: terrorism. It powered you to the presidency, but ultimately ended your rule. In fact, more than half way through your tenure, The Washington Post correctly pointed out that the “battle in Sinai has never been deadlier” and there have been multiple assassinations in Cairo of prominent army and government members.
So not only was prosperity absent, with inflation reaching over 30 percent in 2017 after the IMF deal, but security was also lacking. What say you, Mr President?
Sisi: [Abruptly slamming shoes on the floor] You misrepresent facts, Amr! You know our battle in Sinai was a very successful one! Virtually every week we, the army spokesperson to be precise, announced the killing of tens of terrorists and the injury and arrest of many more ...
MEE: [Interrupting] Precisely. How could the army be eliminating tens of terrorists weekly while arresting and injuring as many more every single week of your presidency? Wilayat Sinai, the Islamic State-affiliated group, would have to number in the many thousands for those figures to be true, no?
Sisi: Hahaha. Look Amr, I’m neither a statistician, nor a mathematician. I am a military man first and foremost. I don’t concern myself with numbers and facts. My chief concern is making the army the greatest in the world and with God’s help that is what I have done.
Have you not seen the Mistral class helicopter carrier? Did you not hear of the Rafale fighter jets? Let’s think of the positives shall we? Rest assured, the glass is half full, it is just a matter of perspective. Think not of what is, but what could be.
MEE: Speaking of change in perspective, let’s talk about the IMF. Your regime, and others preceding it, looked with suspicion upon the IMF, leery of its motivations and tactics.
Yet, once the country’s economic crisis deepened and Gulf economic support began to wane, you ran to the IMF for a $12bn loan despite very harsh conditions which undermined public support for you. Any regrets?
Sisi: [Smoke seemingly rising from ears] What mosque do you attend, boy? Clearly, it must be one affiliated with The Organisation!! Clearly, you weren’t in attendance when I said “don’t listen to anyone but me”.
I have checked you out, don’t forget my background in intelligence. I know your educational background - and your address for that matter. We understand there are evil people. It is time you understood that, too. [Slams a right-handed fist to table still wet with spilt tea]
MEE: But Mr President, many wonder with the $30bn the New York Times said you received from the Gulf, why you ever needed $12bn more from the …
Sisi: [Like a steak knife through butter] This conversation is over.
Sisi disappears from the suite quicker than the Gulf money. Perhaps it was the flood of insults, from his beloved citizenry, raining on his birthday which ruined the presidential mood?
There were more questions to be sure but those only interested in slogans for answers and mega projects for solutions are not very fond of deconstruction.
- Amr Khalifa is a freelance journalist and analyst recently published in Ahram Online, Mada Masr, The New Arab, Muftah and Daily News Egypt. You can follow him on Twitter@cairo67unedited.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Art by MEE Infographics
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.