Ex-army chief and leading presidential candidate Abdel Fattah al-Sisi warned Egyptians on Tuesday they will have to be patient and work hard to salvage their economy after three years of unrest.
The retired field marshal, who ousted the elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July, said foreign debt and subsidies costs ate away much of the budget, but ruled out drastic subsidy cuts.
Sisi is expected to win the May 26-27 election against his only rival, leftist Hamdeen Sabbahi, amid calls for a strong leader who can restore stability.
But he presented a bleak vision for the short term, and urged against protests that he said added burdens on the state amid persistent demonstrations by Morsi’s Islamist supporters and threats of further labour strikes.
“I don’t sleep, and neither will you,” he said in the second part of a television interview aired by two private television channels.
“You have a country that is being lost, a nation that is threatened,” he said of the economy. “How do you talk to me about protest. I say: people beware, we have something that is being lost.”
Egypt had been slowly recovering from a sharp drop in foreign investments and tourism after a 2011 uprising that overthrew strongman Hosni Mubarak, when the military toppled his Islamist successor Morsi last year.
Morsi’s overthrow ushered in a brutal police crackdown on his followers in which at least 1,400 people have been killed, and a militant campaign that left almost 500 security personnel dead.
The unrest had badly hit the key tourism sector and left the economy propped by billions of dollars in aid from friendly Gulf Arab countries.
“What will be given to Egypt is important and could be a lot,” he said when asked if more aid would come.
Sisi discussed his economic programme, promising to speed up projects while urging Egyptians to conserve energy use amid widespread power cuts.
He also ruled out drastic cuts to food and energy subsidies, which he said cost the state 200 billion Egyptian pounds ($28.5 bln) a year.
“You can’t finish subsidies at once, no one can endure that,” he said, but when asked if the economic situation would improve in two years he said: “Yes”.
Morsi’s government had been negotiating a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan partly conditioned on overhauling the subsidies system.
The interim military-installed government has said it would phase out the reforms.