At the same time, Mr. el-Sisi continued to cut subsidies to the poor while splurging on arms deals for warships and fighter jets totaling at least $12 billion.
Mr. el-Sisi can claim some credit for his pandemic response. With more than 109,000 declared cases and 6,380 deaths, Egypt has been nowhere as badly hit as Europe or the United States.
Yet testing levels remain strikingly low, at 953 tests per 100,000 people, according to data Egypt reports to the World Health Organization, which means that large numbers of cases are likely going undetected. Concerned health experts say this approach is giving the public a false sense of security.
“People tend to believe the pandemic is over,” Dr. Pierre Nabeth of the World Health Organization told a news conference in Cairo last month. “This is an alarming situation because in fact the winter season is starting.”
In the region, Egypt’s testing rate exceeds only the figures of countries in crisis like Yemen (33) and Syria (199), and is far behind Iraq (7,554), Jordan (20,540) and even war-torn Libya (5,421).
And the fragility of Egypt’s underfunded public health system, exposed in the early days of the pandemic, highlights a core element of Mr. el-Sisi’s harsh rule, where a tiered system of privilege perpetuates inequality and rewards a powerful military — often at the expense of an increasingly poor citizenry.
“Weapons purchases and vanity megaprojects have been his priorities, even during the pandemic,” said Michele Dunne, an Egypt scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Egypt’s military has become “increasingly rapacious” under Mr. el-Sisi, she added. “And that has diverted scarce government resources from the critical needs of the Egyptian people.”