Promises of political reform and the reinstatement of food subsidies follow days of protests against President Abdel Fattah el Sisi’s government.
Days after street demonstrations in Egypt, the government of President Abdel Fattah el Sisi appears to be on a retreat as it tries to placate growing discontentment over economic hardship and stifling authoritarianism.
Parliamentary Speaker Ali Abdelaal, made a rare remark on October 1, promising that opposition parties would have more liberty going forward. He also said the media would be given freedom.
Even though the speaker didn’t elaborate on how soon such changes might occur and there are lingering doubts over the sincerity of the Sisi government when it comes to political reforms, the development comes on the heels of the reversal of another key government decision.
Over the weekend, Sisi said he personally intervened to stop officials from excluding people from a food subsidy programme on which nearly two-thirds of Egyptians rely.
Under a 2016 loan deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Egypt had agreed to introduce austerity measures which included cutting subsidies on fuel and making sure the ration cards used to buy discounted food staples such as rice and pasta reach deserving people.
Since early this year, the supply ministry had been collecting information on the beneficiaries of food subsidies. People who were found to be spending too much on things such as phone bills, electricity, or school tuition fees for their children were excluded from the list.
But this exercise, which was meant to fix broken government finances, came at a time of high inflation, joblessness and growing frustration among young Egyptians who aspire for greater economic opportunity and social freedom.
Last month saw sporadic street demonstrations in Cairo and other cities after a businessman, Mohammad Ali, accused Sisi of corruption. In videos released online, Ali, who worked as a military contractor in Egypt, said the army was squandering public funds in order to build big villas for Sisi and his aides.
Sisi, a former head of the military, came to power after he led a coup in 2013 that toppled the democratically elected government of Mohamed Morsi.
He has rejected the corruption allegations as “sheer lies”.
Under the IMF programme, Egypt had to reduce its burgeoning budget deficit, which stood at 10 percent of GDP, one of the highest in the region.
In the last two weeks, the Egyptian authorities have arrested more than 2,000 people, including prominent human rights lawyers and activists such as Alaa Abdel Fattah, a well-known blogger.
Many of those apprehended have been accused of being part of the Muslim Brotherhood, the political movement that Sisi regime banned in 2014.
The years-long crackdown against dissidents has continued despite pressure from human rights groups and many Western lawmakers.