Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 12 December 2019

Egypt’s El Sisi denies viral video corruption allegations

The president insisted he and the country’s military were honourable in a televised address

The gunfire exchange took place at the hideouts in Cairo. AP
The gunfire exchange took place at the hideouts in Cairo. AP

Egypt’s president on Saturday defiantly rejected corruption allegations made by a former military contractor against him and the armed forces, saying the claims were designed to “bring down” the state, crush the will of Egyptians and undermine the trust they have in his leadership.

In televised comments, President Abdel Fattah El Sisi acknowledged that what the construction contractor said in a series of video clips posted online this month and which went viral caused him concern. Some of what he said, he added, was true.

“By the will of God, your son is honest, trustworthy and sincere,” he told Egyptians, seeking to reassure the population of his integrity.

Mr El Sisi, a retired general in office since 2014, did not mention the contractor, Mohammed Ali, by name. He said he chose to speak on the subject against the counsel of his security and intelligence agencies.

“They have been begging me for 10 days not to talk about this,” he said.

However, Mr El Sisi explained that he decided to speak publicly about the allegations because they touched the trust between him and the people.

As defence minister, Mr El Sisi led the military’s 2013 intervention to remove president Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, amid a wave of protests against his divisive, one-year rule. He was elected president in 2014 and won a second term in office last year.

Mr Ali, also a film actor, claimed in the video clips that he was owed millions of pounds by the military for work he has done. He accused the military, the president and his family of corruption which cost the treasury billions of pounds.

He also accused Mr El Sisi of squandering state funds on new presidential palaces and of giving the go-ahead to projects he described as unnecessary or not economically feasible.

Filmed with a mobile phone in Spain where he has lived for the past year, Mr Ali ‘s melodramatic style and his Egyptian Arabic vernacular, while vulgar and littered with expletives, resonated with some Egyptians at a time when many of the country’s 100 million people are struggling with rising prices caused by the adoption in 2016 of harsh but much-needed economic reforms as part of a deal with the International Monetary Fund for a $12-billion loan.

Mr El Sisi on Saturday made no mention of any planned proceedings against Mr Ali, 45.

The clips were posted on YouTube earlier this month and set social media alight with comments ranging from branding Mr Ali a traitor to calling him a courageous whistle blower whose accusations, while not substantiated, shattered the long-held taboo of public criticism of the country’s military or accusing its top brass of corruption.

The military is Egypt’s most powerful institution, whose conscription system ensures its constant interaction with civilians. Like Mr El Sisi, all but two of Egypt’s presidents hailed from the military since young army officers toppled the monarchy following a 1952 coup.

The role of the military under Mr El Sisi has expanded well beyond the defence of the nation, taking on giant infrastructure projects, building new cities, food production and retail services. Critics say front companies associated with the military are also investing in advertising, drama production and TV networks.

The military’s chief spokesman recently said that the armed forces were overseeing 2,300 projects, employing five million Egyptians.

“Yes, I have built presidential palaces and I will build more presidential palaces … I am building a new nation,” Mr El Sisi said on Saturday. “No, I will build, build and build, but not in my name. Nothing is in my name. Everything is in Egypt’s name.”

He also mounted a strong defence of the military, but without responding to specific allegations made by Mr Ali, like the army’s construction arm securing contracts that were never tendered.

“It’s a strong army. It’s a patriotic and honourable army. Its strength comes from its honour,” he said. “Egypt will never be brought down, unless its army falls first.”

Updated: September 14, 2019 10:53 PM

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