Elections every year? Four bizarre Sisi moments at World Youth Forum
In an international forum designed to cater to youth needs and aspirations, Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi dominated the headlines with his unusual takes on elections, protests and more.
During the fourth edition of the World Youth Forum (WYF), held in Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh between 10-13 January, Sisi addressed participants and journalists more than once.
WYF has been held annually since 2017, except for 2020, when it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is sponsored by Sisi and is open to people of all nations between the ages of 18 and 40. The forum is an international NGO with a statement message of "sending a message of peace, prosperity, harmony and progress from the youth to the entire world".
As a sponsor of the event, Sisi had a lot to say. We take a look at some of his most talked-about moments from this year’s forum.
1. 'Goodbye beautiful'
The forum drew attention from the very start, when, during the opening ceremony on 10 January, the Italian protest song Bella Ciao (translation: goodbye beautiful) was performed on stage in front of Sisi.
The revolutionary song originated in the late 19th century as a protest folk song, initially sung by workers protesting at harsh working conditions in northern Italy. It was then modified and adopted as an anthem of the Italian resistance movement during its fight against the occupying forces of Nazi Germany in the 1940s.
Recently, the song has experienced a revival with the Netflix series Money Heist (La Casa de Papel), in which a group of robbers partake in two elaborate heists: one on the Royal Mint of Spain and another on the Bank of Spain.
Online, Twitter users mocked the forum's organisers for not understanding the irony of a song being sung in front of Sisi that incites revolution and successful bank robberies.
2. Elections every year?
While addressing foreign journalists at the forum, Sisi said: “I always say that I am ready, every year, to hold elections in Egypt on one condition: you bear the financial cost of the electoral process.
"I am ready to do this every year in the presence of all international organisations… and if the Egyptians say 'No', I will leave them."
Sisi's elections comments backfired, swiftly prompting the hashtag “Leave Sisi” to top Egypt’s trending list on Twitter. Using the hashtag, one Twitter user wrote: “We don't want you. We are unable to eat and drink, we are unable to pay bills, we cannot pay taxes, we live in our homes not reassured, we do not feel safe.”
3. $50bn protests
According to Sisi, freedom of expression in Egypt is guaranteed and he is fully prepared to accept any real criticism in order to advance the Egyptian state. He’ll even allow Egyptians to demonstrate in the street, if he’s given $50bn each year.
“Write down $50 billion each year, and I will ask Egyptians to demonstrate,” he said.
Sisi justified his request by explaining how Egypt needs around $20bn-30bn annually to cover its expenses.
“Is it normal that I can earn and save this money while the country has demonstrations?” he asked.
Protests in Egypt last year were met with riot police, teargas and rubber bullets, all accompanied by the threat of arrest.
Meanwhile, Egypt is in the midst of building a new administrative capital just outside Cairo to become the new financial centre of the country, at a total cost of $45bn.
4. Defending Egypt’s human rights record
Following a question about human rights in Egypt, Sisi claimed that many statements issued abroad are based on inaccurate information, emphasising his point by asking the crowd “Do you love our people more than us? Do you fear for our country more than we do?”
He then called on all those who claim to have data on the number of enforced disappearances to give that information to the state.
Egypt’s human rights record has been widely criticised, especially by foreign human rights groups. Human Rights Watch estimates that there are around 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt. Cairo has frequently rejected such criticism.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.