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Sisi talks Egypt's foreign policy, the importance of reform: Interview - Part 2

The second part of a second interview president Sisi gave the chief editors of Al-Ahram, Al-Akhbar and Al-Gomhoreya newspapers in less than two months. The first part was published on Saturday

Ahram Online , Sunday 16 Oct 2016
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (Reuters)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (Reuters)
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The second part of an interview with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and the editors of the three state-owned newspapers was published on Sunday, revealing his views on Egypt's foreign affairs, battle with corruption and the role of Egypt's youth and political groups in the country's life.

This is the second interview El-Sisi has given with the chief editors of Al-Ahram, Al-Akhbar and Al-Gomhoreya newspapers in less than two months.

The first part of the interview was published on Saturday.

Egypt's foreign relations

Defending Egypt's stance regarding the war in Syria, El-Sisi explained Cairo's UN security council vote in favor of two different resolutions to end fighting in Aleppo, stressing that the vote had not affected relations with Saudi Arabia.

Cairo, which represents Arab countries on the 15-member council, voted on a French-drafted resolution and a rival Russian proposal that would have scaled down military action in Aleppo.

"The common thing between the two resolutions is that they both call for an end to fighting and in favor of sending humanitarian aid to the people of Syria…that is what we care about as a state and as Egyptians...that is why we supported and voted in favor of the two resolutions," El-Sisi said, stressing that the two votes were not contradictory as critics suggested.

The president refuted that Egypt's vote for the Russian resolution has had an effect on Cairo's relations with Riyadh.

Following Egypt's UN Security Council vote, the Saudi ambassador to Cairo, Ahmed Kattan, left the country for a three-day visit to the kingdom while Saudi oil company Aramco cancelled its October oil shipment to Cairo.

"Strategic relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia are not affected by anything and we should not allow anything to harm these relations," the president insisted.

Thanking Saudi Arabia for the support it has shown Egypt, El-Sisi further accused traditional and social media of "drawing a [false] picture" of tension between the two allies.

Saudi Arabia has supported Cairo with billions of dollars in aid, grants, oil products and cash deposits to buoy the country's economy following the toppling of president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

El-Sisi also refuted in the interview any "plots against Ethiopia," responding to statements made last week by Ethiopian officials, claiming that Egypt and Eritrea directly support anti-government demonstrations by the Oromo ethnic group.

"We do not interfere in any country's internal affairs and we do not plot against anyone."

"Talking in front of the Ethiopian parliament I stated that we had two choices: either to cooperate or to confront, and we chose cooperation," El-Sisi said.

Egypt and Ethiopia witnessed tensions in recent years over the construction of Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam, a project Cairo fears will negatively affect Egypt's Nile water share. Addis Ababa maintains that the dam project, which Ethiopia needs to generate electricity, would not harm downstream countries.

Relations improved in recent months, particularly after Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan signed in September the final contracts for the long-awaited technical studies on the potential impact of the dam on downstream countries.

"Egypt enjoys a balanced, open and stable relation with other countries," El-Sisi stressed.

On his meeting with US presidential candidates Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump in New York last month, El-Sisi said the aim was to reveal Egypt's vision for the region to guarantee better understanding with whichever candidate takes office.

On relations with Russia, El-Sisi said that efforts are ongoing to resume Russian flights back to Egypt.

Russia suspended all flights to Egypt after a Russian plane leaving Sharm El-Sheikh crashed in Sinai last October in what is suspected to be a terrorist attack.

El-Sisi stressed that relations with Russia are "strong and exceptional," adding that talks regarding the nuclear power plant deal are being concluded and the deal is expected to be finalized by the end of the year.

Last November, Sergey Kiriyenko, the head of Russia's state-owned nuclear firm Rosatomalong, along with a Russian delegation, signed the Dabaa nuclear plant deal with the Egyptian government.

The plant, which will be built in the western desert, is expected to be finished within 12 years and will consist of four nuclear power units, 1,200 megawatt (MW) each. El-Sisi has frequently stressed that the project is peaceful and aims to produce electricity.

On relations with China and India, El-Sisi said that the two countries support Egypt and plan to cooperate in business and technology.

On Greece and Cyprus, El-Sisi said that last week's trilateral presidential meeting in Cairo confirmed the three countries' cooperation in combatting terrorism and illegal migration.

Egypt's fight against corruption and the importance of reform

Shifting to Egypt's internal political scene, El-Sisi said he is closely following the "youth talks" ongoing at youth centers across the nation, in preparation for a "youth conference" to be held in Sharm El-Sheikh.

The conference is expected to include more than three thousand participants from Egypt's different political groups. El-Sisi said it will be a good chance to discuss the criticism that Egypt's parties and political groups play a weak role.

El-Sisi also stressed the role of the Egyptian state in fighting corruption.

"The state is not at all tolerant with corruption…I support all state institutions that are concerned with the issue and we have no stake in covering up corruption."

"We are fighting a relentless battle against corruption," he added.

El-Sisi, however, criticised the media for publishing "inaccurate" estimates of corruption.

Egypt’s top auditor Hisham Geneina was sacked last March by a presidential decree hours after prosecutors accused him of making false claims about widespread government corruption.

Geneina told media outlets that Egypt lost LE600 billion (about $76 billion) between 2012 and 2015 due to government corruption. Prosecutors charged that the auditor of exaggerating the sums.

El-Sisi said that the public needs to see the "bigger picture" regarding the economy and realize the importance and inevitability of reform.

In closing, the president urged the people to "stand together" and warned of overpopulation which he described as the "biggest danger."

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