President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi argued state-led development projects could resolve irregular migration pressures, in an address that was broadcast to the nation on Monday.
The president began his address with a moment of silence for those who drowned when a boat carrying up to 600 people capsized on route from Egypt to the southern coast of Europe.
“There is no justification or excuse for those who were lost, over 160 people from Egypt and beyond. This is an issue we need to confront with all our strength,” Sisi stated in his speech from Alexandria, adding that the Egyptian state and its citizenry must address migration issues.
After stating that he personally accepts responsibility for every victim, the president outlined several proposals in line with the state’s already existing economic and social policies, which focused on national housing projects.
“The state not only needs to protect its border and to prevent this sort of thing,” Sisi stated, referring to the capsized boat, “but we also need, as a society, to ensure that this does not occur again.”
“Egypt does not want to be a state of refugees,” he added. “But we have to work and work and work to change the reality that we are living in.”
Sisi stressed the importance of job opportunities at aquaculture farms in Port Said, Borollos and Kafr al-Sheikh, cities that often serve as launching sites for migrants traveling to Europe, and were part of a February 2016 agreement between Egypt and Switzerland — the Sustainable Transformation of Egypt’s Aquaculture Market System (STREAMS) project — to regiment labor and production markets with an investment of 2 million Swiss francs.
“Why should we leave our country? Are there no job opportunities?” Sisi asked. “Our country needs us first and foremost.”
The president championed national development projects as remedies for migratory pressures, focusing on the Bashayer al-Kheir (“Good Omens”) joint-housing development project, which is intended to house 1,600 families from Alexandria’s Gheit al-Enab informal housing quarter. Sisi stated that the project has brought “joy and happiness” to low-income families, but did not address the cost of the housing units or financing terms.
Alexandria’s low-income residents were markedly absent from the conference hall, where the assembled audience consisted of government ministers, generals and military personnel in camouflage uniforms.
Sisi also claimed that another 1,500 housing units are nearing completion in Dabaa, where the government plans to build a nuclear power plant with Russian technical and financial assistance in the form of US$25 billion in loans.
Turning toward future development projects, Sisi urged further collaboration between local banks, businesses, the Armed Forces, municipal authorites and citizens, under the auspices of national development funds, such as the Tahya Masr (Long Live Egypt) fund.
Sisi focussed this capital investment on a population already bearing the burden of austerity measures, asking Egyptians to donate small sums of money to fund national projects.
“I don’t know how you do this. But the spare change — that is the fifty piasters and the one pounds from your transactions — can be placed in such funds,” he said. “We are talking about the transactions of 20 or 30 million people. If everybody donates, we will collect LE10 or 12 million,” a sum the president stated could be deposited in interest-yielding accounts.
“Please, please. I want this money. I don’t know how to take it, but we want to put it away,” Sisi later stated, invoking the benefit of future generations and citing a passage from the Quran that addresses almsgiving.
Sisi also stated that he hopes to eliminate Hepatitis C from Egypt, which has the highest rate of incidence in the world, in the next couple of years. Pointing to current progress, the president asserted that the “Health Ministry no longer has waiting lines for people seeking treatment.”
In September 2015, the Egyptian government published a draft law criminalizing human trafficking that would impose punitive measures on perpetrators, including fines and imprisonment. The state has systematically silenced those critical of state-sanctioned policies, contributing to worsening political and economic conditions, which has resulted in Egyptians being among the top 10 nationalities crossing the central Mediterranean, according to UNHCR data.