El-Sisi’s call on Egyptians to lose weight creates a stir

El-Sisi, who often tells Egyptians they must buckle down and accept hardships to get through hard times, said they must change their habits to shed the fat. (File/AFP)
Updated 25 December 2018
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El-Sisi’s call on Egyptians to lose weight creates a stir

  • El-Sisi, who often tells Egyptians they must buckle down and accept hardships to get through hard times, said they must change their habits to shed the fat
  • He derided Egyptians for not walking enough and, laughing, turned to his prime minister — seated next to him — and told him not to put on weight

CAIRO: President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is demanding Egyptians lose weight.
In televised comments earlier this month, the general-turned-president railed about the number of overweight people he sees and told Egyptians they must take better care of themselves. He said physical education should become core curriculum at schools and universities and suggested TV shows shouldn’t let presenters or guests on the air if they are overweight.
The next morning, before sunrise, he drove his point home by energetically cycling to the national military academy in a Cairo suburb. In black sweat pants, a dark top and a matching baseball hat, he told cadets that he was adamant they wouldn’t leave basic training before fulfilling fitness requirements.
It was the typical style of El-Sisi, who sees even the smallest minutiae as needing his shaping and weighs in on anything from road building to filmmaking, often while scolding and haranguing Egyptians to correct their behavior.
But El-Sisi’s critics said he was fat-shaming and taking an elitist approach to a problem whose roots lie to a large extent in poverty. They also criticized him for not offering concrete plans to combat obesity and spread fitness. Prices for food — particularly fruits and vegetables — have spiraled because of economic reforms introduced by El-Sisi, often making cheaper junk foods more appealing.
No one disputes that Egypt has a weight problem. One in three Egyptians suffers from obesity, the world’s highest rate, according to a 2017 global study by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. It found 35 percent of adults — some 19 million people in the country of 100 million — are obese, again the world’s highest rate, as well as 10.2 percent of Egyptian children, or around 3.6 million.
El-Sisi, who often tells Egyptians they must buckle down and accept hardships to get through hard times, said they must change their habits to shed the fat.
“The second I walk into any place I look at things you cannot possibly imagine I would notice; and I ask myself ‘what is this? Who are these people? Why are these people not looking after themselves?’” El-Sisi said in the Dec. 15 comments.
He derided Egyptians for not walking enough and, laughing, turned to his prime minister — seated next to him — and told him not to put on weight.
Egypt’s pro-government media prominently trumpeted his comments. Parliament, packed by his supporters, has said it intends to introduce legislation making physical education part of the core curriculum at schools. Similarly, his education minister said students taking a 10-stop ride on the Cairo metro should get off two stops early and walk to their destination as a form of exercise.
In social media, possibly the only platform of relatively free speech left in Egypt, the response was more critical. Some said El-Sisi was removed from reality or speaks his mind without weighing his words first. A flood of jokes spilled forth on Twitter and Facebook, playing on the risks of being too fat under a president whose security forces have arrested thousands in a widespread crackdown against dissent.
One joke that went viral told of people in a car sucking in their bellies as they approached a police checkpoint. Another has a man asking to hide at a friend’s house from police until he loses weight. In another, a man informs on his overweight wife to authorities on the phone.
El-Sisi’s comments “laid bare a great deal of elitism,” said novelist and socio-political analyst Amar Ali Hassan. “They are symptomatic of an authoritarian ruler who’s convinced he’s on a mission, that he alone knows what is in the public interest while everyone else is ignorant of the lofty goals in his head.”
Since taking office in 2014, El-Sisi has depicted himself as trying to refashion Egypt into a prosperous, stable and modern nation. But he has made sure there is no one influential or brave enough to question any of his policies or offer alternatives. He once angrily told Egyptians to listen to him alone and shouted down a lawmaker who suggested delaying the lifting of subsidies. This month, he declared he did not allow feasibility studies to be the deciding factor on the multi-billion-dollar projects he has embarked on.
Some of his policies have seen successes. The country is slowly recovering from the economic slump it suffered in the years after a 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Security has improved.
But El-Sisi has also sought to quash any opposition, jailing thousands of Islamists along with secular pro-democracy activists, silencing critics in the media, reversing freedoms won in the 2011 uprising and winning a second term in office this year after authorities jailed potentially serious challengers or intimidated them out of the race.
Some longtime El-Sisi critics commended him for drawing attention to the need to fight obesity. But they pointed out that Egypt’s poor majority cannot afford to eat healthy when a diet of sugar and carbs is cheaper.
“The president’s concern with health and weight should not be taken against him,” Negad Borai, a rights lawyer banned by authorities from travel, wrote on Facebook. “Poverty never stopped anyone from exercising.”
Mohamed Zaree, another rights lawyer, said El-Sisi needs to enable Egyptians to lose weight rather than ordering them to exercise.
“He needs to make healthy food available at low prices, set up venues where people can exercise and allow emergency obesity operations to be performed under the cover of the state’s medical care system,” he said.


Weinstein reaches deal to settle civil proceedings for $44 million: report

Updated 24 May 2019
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Weinstein reaches deal to settle civil proceedings for $44 million: report

  • The deal, which has not yet been signed, aims to cover all civil proceedings filed against the fallen Hollywood mogul
  • The settlement does not exempt Weinstein from the criminal proceedings brought against him for sexual assault

NEW YORK: Disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has reached a provisional $44 million settlement with alleged victims and creditors, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
The deal, which has not yet been signed, aims to cover all civil proceedings filed against the fallen Hollywood mogul, including those in Canada and the United Kingdom.
Weinstein’s spokesperson denied to comment.
The settlement does not exempt Weinstein from the criminal proceedings brought against him for sexual assault, for which he will go on trial in September.
Weinstein — a catalyst for the #MeToo anti-harassment movement — has been charged over the alleged assaults of two women and faces life in prison if he is convicted at the trial, which could last five weeks.
In addition to the alleged victims and creditors, the settlement covers the proceedings started by former New York state attorney general Eric Schneiderman, who has been succeeded by Letitia James.
The proceedings aim specifically to guarantee the alleged victims will be compensated.
James’s spokesperson also declined to comment.
The settlement amount will be paid out by insurance agencies, the Journal reported, several of which count The Weinstein Company, the production company Weinstein co-founded, among their clients.
Since October 2017, Weinstein — one of the most powerful men in Hollywood before a cascade of sexual misconduct allegations precipitated his downfall — has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by more than 80 women.
Among his accusers are prominent actresses such as Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek.