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Videos accusing Egypt's Sisi, military of graft go viral

War Conflict

AFP  |  Cairo 

Videos posted online by an Egyptian construction contractor accusing President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the military of corruption have gone viral, sparking a rare debate about the army's growing economic empire.

Mohamed Aly, 45, a fledgling actor alongside his construction business, claims that authorities have misappropriated millions of Egyptian pounds in public funds.

He also alleges the military owes him hundreds of millions of pounds for projects his company Amlaak Group was commissioned to build, including palatial residences for Sisi.

Aly -- who says he has fled to Spain -- did not however provide any evidence to back up his claims and the Egyptian armed forces declined an AFP request to comment.

The videos, posted from Spain and viewed by millions, have triggered a swift public backlash from Sisi supporters, with one lawyer lodging a complaint with the attorney general accusing Aly of high treason.

The military's economic interests are considered a sensitive topic.

But since Aly began posting the videos a week ago mainly on YouTube and Facebook these interests have become a popular talking point on television and social media.

In the footage, which has been released in instalments, Aly mocks Sisi -- a former army chief -- and lambasts the military in an often rambling fashion.

Social media users have widely shared the videos -- which range from 20-30 minutes in length -- and some say they are looking forward to the next one.

"People look forward to Mohamed Aly's videos more than Netflix movies and series," an Egyptian user said in a post on Twitter.

In the first video, posted on September 2, Aly blasted Sisi, without naming him, saying: "You say the Egyptian people are very poor and that we should tighten our belts.

"(But) You are throwing away billions and your men are wasting millions." In a speech on Egypt's economy two years ago, Sisi had said "We (Egyptians) are very poor".

The reality is different, according to Aly, who says that some of the projects the military asked him to built included a luxurious guest house for Sisi in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and a palace in Cairo.

"People must know how their money is being spent," Aly says in one of his latest videos.

Aly said he has worked for the military for around 15 years and pictures of completed projects carried out by his firm for the armed forces can be seen on his company's website.

For decades, the military has played a key though opaque economic role, producing everything from washing machines to pasta, alongside building roads and operating gas stations.

Since the arrival of Sisi, who toppled his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013, its economic involvement has been more visible amid austerity measures and rising prices.

It is difficult to assess the military's share in the economy and details of its budget are not allowed to be published.

But analysts say it is growing.

In December 2016, Sisi said the military accounts for between 1.5 to 2 per cent of the national economy adding that "we would love for it to be 50 per cent".

Last week, army spokesman General Tamer al-Rifai said on a popular TV show that the armed forces oversee rather than "manage" about 2,300 projects nationwide employing five million civilians.

AFP reached out on Monday to Aly's media representatives in Barcelona but had not received a reply The headquarters of Amlaak Group, a two-storey villa in an upmarket Cairo suburb, was abandoned when AFP inspected it on Sunday.

"They cleared out the premises about two years ago," said the landlord, adding that his dealings with Aly were limited.

A neighbour added: "He used to come here driving a different car every day." Little is known of Aly and most of that can be gleaned on his social media account, where he posted pictures of himself posing with fancy cars.

That seemingly lavish lifestyle has sparked questions online with some asking what motivated him to accuse Sisi and the military of graft.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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First Published: Mon, September 09 2019. 22:00 IST