Sunday,17 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)
Sunday,17 February, 2019
Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Making his point

Reem Leila reads between the lines of statements delivered  this week by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi

Al-Ahram Weekly

On 20 January, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi marked Police Day by delivering a speech at the Police Academy, in which he weighed the right to protest against the basic concerns of a struggling population.

“I never said that demonstrations are forbidden. But 90 million people need to eat, drink, live and be assured of their future,” he said.

“I am as keen about human rights as anyone else but take care, don’t take us all down with you while asking for your rights. Don’t forget, people need to live.”

Three days earlier, on 17 January, Al-Sisi travelled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for a two-day visit during which he was interviewed by the satellite channel Sky News Arabia and by the Emirati newspaper Al-Ittihad.

The president told Sky News that Egypt is preparing for parliamentary elections, the final step in the road map, scheduled to begin in March. He stressed Egypt’s determination to strengthen its ties with all Arab states, though he made it clear he currently has no plans to meet with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

Al-Sisi said he is still waiting for the results of the Saudi initiative, the Riyadh Supplementary Agreement, announced by King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz last November. “As I said during my visit to Kuwait while addressing the same issue, let’s wait and see,” Al-Sisi told Sky News Arabia.

Tensions between Egypt and Qatar have steadily worsened since the removal of former president Mohamed Morsi. Qatar condemned his ouster in July 2013 as a coup d’état against Egypt’s democratically elected president.

During the interview, Al-Sisi said claims that freedom of expression is being eroded in Egypt are false. “There are no restrictions on the press or freedom of expression,” he said. He also denied there any political detainees in Egypt.

Said Al-Sisi, “We don’t have political prisoners. There are legal procedures that are followed before anyone is arrested for violating the law. All those currently detained face criminal charges. Though the protest law has to be strictly enforced to maintain order, the status of those arrested under its provisions is currently being revised.”

The president told his interviewer, “Everyone is welcome to participate in the development of the country as long as they do not ruin what we are building.” Egyptians, he added, will never accept those who seek to bomb the electricity grid or place explosive devices in metro and railway stations.

Al-Sisi also defended the right of the Nour Party to participate in the country’s political life. He acknowledged that he constitution places a ban on religious parties, but, as he said, the Salafist Nour Party, which “has a religious background, is now a political organisation.” He continued, “The Nour Party has not been excluded from the political scene. They are with us today.”

He also gave Sky News Arabia his reading of the spread of terrorism in Sinai. “Extremism became rooted in Sinai because of years of neglect,” he said, adding that security solutions are only one prong of the battle against terrorists. Militants based in North Sinai increased their attacks following Morsi’s ouster. Hundreds of police and military personnel have been killed.

In his interview with Al-Ittihad, Al-Sisi stressed Egypt’s role in maintaining Middle Eastern security, especially in Syria. The president underlined that any division of Syrian territory would be a disaster for the region. “We have to exert every effort to prevent the break-up of Syria,” he said.

He argued that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad could be part of the solution but first there must be trust-building initiatives “between the regime and opposition powers.”

On Libya, Al-Sisi said: “We support a peaceful political solution to end the Libyan crisis. We back the role of the Libyan Army in maintaining security. All Arab countries must work to prevent the smuggling of weapons, and the spread of extremism, to Libya.”

The president appeared keen to talk about how Egypt is rebalancing its international relations, saying, “Our growing cooperation with Russia does not come at the expense of our relationship with the US or any other country.”

Hazem Abdel-Azim, a member of the Free Egyptians Party, says Al-Sisi’s interview with Sky News Arabia had great clarity, though he disagreed with the president’s description of the Nour Party as a group that has transcended its religious background. “Unless we totally separate religion from politics we will live to regret it,” warned Abdel-Azim.

Hafez Abu Saeda, head of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EHOR), was happy with the messages Al-Sisi appeared to be sending. “What I do hope,” he says, “is that the president acts on his promise to review the status of those detained under the protest law soon.

“It is true Egypt is passing through a critical phase that requires extraordinary measures. Unfortunately, human rights are being compromised in some cases. I hope all violations of human rights will be eliminated soon. I have high hopes this will happen, after listening to the president’s interview,” he said, adding, “The president has exerted huge efforts since coming to power to recover Egypt’s regional influence.”

On Egyptian-Qatari relations, political analyst Ibrahim Nawar says that while some regional players — he singled out Saudi King Abdullah bin Fahd Al-Saud, and the Emirs of Kuwait and UAE — are keen to broker a truce, foreign powers — he named Turkish president Recep Tayyib Erdogan, the EU and US — are keen to fan the tensions.

“They want to delay any reconciliation between Egypt and Qatar until after the international economic forum scheduled in March. They do not want the conference to succeed,” claims Nawar.

Nawar agreed with Al-Sisi that laws regulating protests must be strictly enforced. He also predicts that criticism of Egypt over its treatment of Islamists will become less vocal as the world wakes up to the dangers posed by such extremists.

It is unfortunate, says Nawar, that people in Egypt misunderstand freedom. “When protests take place abroad and demonstrators resort to violence the police immediately interfere. Yet in Egypt some people seem to think this is wrong,” he says.

While both Nawar and Saeda agree with Al-Sisi’s statement that there are no political detainees in Egypt both are concerned that some young people have been detained for doing nothing more than expressing their opinions.

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