From the archive of Abdelrahim Ali

4 hours with the president

Abdelrehim Aly

This article was published on al-Bawaba News site on Sunday, August 10, 2014.

On my way to meet President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at Ittihadiya Palace, I used to say to myself that there is a lot that needs to be said. However, I was reluctant to reveal this much, because I did not want to seem objectionable to what is happening or disrupt what is going on on the ground.

I know that what I have is in the supreme interest of the country. So no one can bid against my positions or the role that we agreed to play in order to save Egypt from what was intended for it. 

It means that we will all stand on the edge of danger, and it is not far from us to fall into it.

First, terrorism

President Sisi spoke optimistically about the major projects he seeks to implement throughout his dialogue with the media, which lasted for nearly four hours.

But I had a specific point of view, and I told him: There is a basic issue that we must all care about, before the new Suez Canal project, and before land reform and development, which is confronting terrorism, and I think it is necessary to issue an anti-terrorism law, because these major projects will be greatly threatened in the presence of terrorists. What would happen if a terrorist operation was carried out in one of the work sites? Would the workers go there again? What if one of those who would go to reclaim the land was killed, or some of them were blown up, God forbid? Can someone go there again? 

"I do not know how a person like Adel Habara, who confessed to killing our soldiers and inciting other operations from inside his prison, could be tried before a natural judge, while a citizen is being tried because he caused a problem in a gas station belonging to the armed forces, before a military court?" I asked. 

"How we hold the right hand of the global leader of al-Qaeda and founder of the organization's branch in Libya, then we hand him over to the Public Prosecution the next day, without being able to interrogate him, because National Security is prohibited from interrogating Egyptians according to the amendments introduced to its internal law during the era of the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood?" I asked again.

The president absorbed my anger. He knew that I spoke out of patriotic grounds. Nonetheless, he revealed to me that there were things that he could not speak about while the battle was still taking place in Egypt between Egyptians and the terrorists and that the Egyptian society had to stand on its feet again. 

I presented the president with another vision, with which he reacted strongly. I told him that it was not appropriate for the army to deal directly with the issue of terrorism. 

"There is no army in the world that confronted terrorism and succeeded," I said. 

The president agreed with me completely, but he had something to say from another angle. I interacted with it. He said he could not ignore what had happened in recent years. The army did not confront terrorism, but only helped, providing the required assistance to an apparatus that has its problems, in reference to the police. This apparatus, he said, needs ten years to recover. 

At the same time, he did not deny the great efforts and the sacrifices the police was making to protect Egypt's security and stability.

I felt that there was something the president wanted to say about what was going on, and about the confrontation between state agencies and terrorism, but he passed it unnoticed.

Second, demons of the West

In his interview with us, President Sisi revealed that Western countries are initially uniting against Egypt, and that they are preventing aid, grants and loans that we can get, and set specific conditions for this. 

These countries also want the release of media professionals who have already been arrested and have criminal sentences passed against them.

Here comes the important point that we must stop at in the battle taking place on the land of Egypt. 

This is a soft war waged by countries that do not bring anyone close to their internal affairs, but allow themselves to interfere in Egypt's internal affairs, and want to impose their agenda on us. 

Third, parliamentary elections

President Sisi expressed concern about the upcoming parliamentary elections, stressing what he had previously emphasized on more than one occasion, that this parliament will be the most important in the history of Egypt, not only because it must express the results of the June 30 revolution, but because its powers in the new constitution are equivalent to those of the president of the republic. This makes the parliament stand on equal footing with the president.

MPs can, in case of harmony with each other, push the president's programme forward. However, in case of conflict, God forbid, we enter into a dispute that obstructs any development plans. In this case, we will inevitably go to a confrontation, which will not be in the interest of the country or the citizens.

Despite the president's awareness and familiarity with this vision, he categorically rejected demands by some people to interfere in the electoral process by supporting one party over another. 

Then I said: Mr President, there are political forces and electoral lists that speak in your name or claim to be close to you and that you support them indirectly.

"Do you believe them?" President Sisi asked. 

I answered in the negative. The he said: My final position on the issue of the parliamentary elections is crystal clear: I do not support any of the political or partisan forces or public figures at all. Whoever says otherwise bears the responsibility for this.

Fourth, visit to Saudi Arabia

President Sisi was talking to us hours away from his trip to Saudi Arabia. He said the danger is real in the whole region, ISIS is indeed a danger, and I do not want anyone to underestimate what it is doing.

President Sisi did not say anything about what he will do in Saudi Arabia, or what will happen in the trip. We respected his desire not to talk, knowing that not everything can be said. In politics, there are national security issues that should not be discussed in public. 

But I think this is a personal diligence on my part and a vision that I put forward that I think will be close to what will happen.

The danger to the region that President Sisi talked about may need to activate the joint Arab defence agreement – the agreement already exists, but it is not activated. If this agreement is activated now, this will be said: why was it not activated in Syria or Libya or even in the recent Gaza war? Therefore, what is appropriate, and what could actually happen is an appropriate formula for the case of ISIS if it tries to enter the borders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or the Emirates, where a joint defence agreement against terrorists should be reached. There can also be formulas for the exchange of information and real intelligence co-operation in this context, or the formation of Arab counterterror forces.  I think this is the closest scenario that will happen in this historic visit.

President Sisi focused on the issue of terrorism and was clear with everyone. He said: I do not want to scare you, but we are exposed to the greatest danger in the history of Egypt, and if Egypt falls, it will not rise again. Look at the countries around us that fell and could not rise, in reference to Iraq, Syria and Libya, Afghanistan and Somalia.

Fifth, Ethiopia

President Sisi was clear about Egypt's foreign relations, specifically with regard to Libya and Ethiopia.

On Libya, he completely denied that there is any military intervention of any kind, as matters are not handled in this way, and the world is watching what is happening. It is not reasonable, he said, for matters to be resolved militarily, as long as there are other ways to solve it.

Talking about Ethiopia was more comprehensive and accurate. President Sisi also said that there will be no military solution in Ethiopia. Thinking in this way is basically rejected, and whoever suggests a military solution wants to get us involved in a war that will not be in the interest of anyone at all. 

The question I wanted to answer was: How much time do we need to solve this crisis? We concluded that we may need 9 to 12 years, during which we can pump into our reservoirs what is sufficient for us in the land reclamation operations that we plan. Here we can negotiate with Ethiopia to keep our share of water as is.

President Sisi seemed very fair, while talking about the Ethiopia issue. He believes that Egypt should work for its interest, and Ethiopia should work for its interest as well. Here we can sign an agreement with them that preserves the interest of everyone, as it is their right to live as it is our right to live.

The president concluded his speech on this point in particular by saying: We are not against Ethiopia and we will never be. Moreover, there are experts who are working on studies related to the Renaissance Dam, and the results of these studies will be of interest and appreciation as we deal with the Ethiopia file.