CAIRO (AP) – Beaming, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi sat before an audience next to a young TV presenter who praised him for his transparency and straight talk. She then selected a number of questions and complaints from thousands submitted by the public to an online page called “Ask the President.”
For the next hour, Egypt’s leader dispensed solutions to people’s problems and concerns on live TV.
When one person wrote in complaining police had shut down an unlicensed food cart run by two women, el-Sissi replied he wants to start a program to license such carts in public squares. Then he turned to his interior minister – the powerful head of police sitting in the front row – and chided him good-naturedly, asking why he doesn’t give out temporary licenses until a permanent system is set up.
Egypt’s general-turned-president has deftly maneuvered his way to being a leader through whom nearly everything is funneled, sidestepping state institutions that are largely weak anyway. The parliament is dutifully loyal, his Cabinet waits on his every word, and the media are almost completely without dissenting voices.
At the same time, he has put himself out before the public in a way no Egyptian leader has before. El-Sissi appears often at televised gatherings and a series of heavily publicized youth conferences where he answers questions from people in the audience or – in one case last month – questions submitted to the “Ask the President” page on a website linked to his office.
Throughout, he projects a carefully cultivated image of a detail-oriented workaholic, in touch with the people, tough-minded but sensitive to their woes.
That image has served him well, helping preserve his popularity among a significant section of the Egyptian public, despite the pain of high prices inflicted by austerity measures he imposed to…