Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and leaders of Egypt's mainstream political parties stressed in a meeting on Sunday that the country's long-delayed parliamentary polls must go ahead as scheduled next March.
The meeting came a few days after at least 30 people were killed in coordinated militant attacks on Thursday in the restive North Sinai governorate, including army personnel and civilians.
In statements to Ahram Online, the chairmen of a number of political parties and media figures cited El-Sisi as arguing that "the main goal of the terrorist attacks was to disrupt the country's parliamentary polls which form the last part of a political roadmap."
Anwar El-Sadat, chairman of the Liberal Reform and Development Party, quoted El-Sisi as stating that "terrorist groups also aim to disrupt Egypt's Economic Conference scheduled next March… I exerted lots of efforts to prepare for this conference, and I know that these groups do not want the country to move forward in any way."
Sadat told Ahram Online that he and other political leaders and public figures had asked El-Sisi to make sure that the "war on terrorism" will not infringe upon political rights and freedoms. They referred to the killing of socialist protester Shaimaa Al-Sabagh during a peaceful demonstration on 24 January.
"I told El-Sisi that a high-level delegation should attend a conference scheduled in Washington this month on terrorism. If invited, the high-level delegation should stress that war on terrorism will not be complete without standing up to the Muslim Brotherhood," he added.
The meeting, held at El-Galaa theatre in east Cairo's Heliopolis district, was attended by Hamdeen Sabahi, chairman of the leftist party Egyptian Popular Current and El-Sisi's challenger in last year's presidential elections, and Younis Makhyoun, chairman of the Islamist Nour Party. It is the first time that Sabahi was invited in person to attend a meeting with El-Sisi.
Media coverage of Sinai attacks
Sadat said it was clear that El-Sisi was keen that the meeting includes a majority of political leaders, public and media figures to deliberate on the militant attacks in Sinai and on what measures should be taken to stem the tide of these assaults.
"We will do everything possible and impossible to fight terrorism in the form of preventive counter attacks and drying up sources of funding for terrorists," El-Sisi was cited as saying.
"After the terrorist attacks, he [El-Sisi] looked very interested to find common ground with all political currents, making sure that they stand firm against the Muslim Brotherhood in its war against the state," said Sadat.
Mostafa Bakri, editor of the Weekly El-Osbou, told Ahram Online that "El-Sisi's meeting was primarily intended to inform the country's political elite about terrorist attacks in Sinai and how the country should stand a united front against this new wave of terrorism."
Bakri also said that El-Sisi looked a little bit nervous when he spoke about the local media's coverage of the Sinai attacks.
Abdallah El-Sinnawi, a leftist journalist, said that when speaking to El-Sisi, he agreed the president was correct when he described the Muslim Brotherhood "as the strongest secret organisation in the world."
According to El-Sinnawi, El-Sisi was highly irritated by the local media's coverage of the Sinai attacks. "I know you are keen that you look professional, but all should take care that publishing or broadcasting everything could negatively affect the morale of the army personnel," El-Sisi was cited as saying.
"El-Sisi argued that during the war of attrition – or during the years between the two wars of 1967 and 1973 against Israel – the media was keen not to announce any figures about victims or portray losses as a result of negligence," El-Sinnawi said.
"The people who pay their lives in the fight against terrorism should not be described as negligent," El-Sisi told El-Sinnawi.
El-Sisi, according to Al-Sinnawi, was particularly concerned that "some media people gave themselves the right to accuse the interior ministry of killing socialist protester Shaimaa Al-Sabagh" on 24 January.
The victim was taking part in a memorial march to Tahrir Square to commemorate those killed in the 2011 uprising against former autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
The march, which was not authorised, was forcefully dispersed by the police who fired teargas and birdshot.
The interior ministry denied that a policeman had shot her dead.
"I do not accept that any peaceful protester be killed at the hands of the interior ministry, but at the same time the media should not be in a rush to accuse the ministry without evidence," El-Sisi said.
El-Sinnawi also cited El-Sisi as disclosing that he told Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim that if investigation proved that the interior ministry killed Al-Sabagh, it should face justice.