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UPDATED: Egypt's army is no aggressor, says President Sisi

Osman El Sharnoubi , Sunday 22 Feb 2015
El-Sisi
File photo: Egypt's El-Sisi gestures during an interview with Reuters in Cairo May 14, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)
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President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said the Egyptian army is not an aggressor and does not invade foreign territory but only responds to attacks against it - in reference to recent airstrikes it carried out against Islamic State group targets in Libya.

"How could I go to the Coptic Cathedral to extend my condolences when the Egyptian army hasn't avenged the attacks?" he asked in a recorded speech aired on Sunday.

The Islamic State group last week uploaded online a video showing the beheading of 20 kidnapped Egyptian Copts in Libya, which it claimed responsibility for.

El-Sisi insisted the strikes were accurate, which aimed for 13 specific targets and rejected notions that the army targets civilians.

The president said a raid on a large group of militants was halted last summer due to the presence of women and children at the scene of the planned attack.

"I salute Egypt's armed forces, who are not just alert to dangers on the country's western borders, but are alert in the east in Sinai as well as in the south," he said.

The Egyptian army and police are asserting great efforts to restore complete control over Sinai, and there has been a lot of progress on this front, he assured.

"Sinai won't be developed the way we want it to be without real security and stability."

El-Sisi also thanked Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates for the support they have given Egypt, adding that the UAE and Jordan have offered military assistance with regards to Libya.

The president said it is becoming more pressing to create a unified Arab force to face the challenges confronting the region.

Strong Gulf relations

Rumors and psychological warfare are pillars of what El-Sisi said are fourth generation wars, and proceeded to hint that his speech can be easily rearranged to be used in attempts to harm relations between Egypt and Gulf countries.

In an indirect response to alleged leaks of senior army officials speaking negatively about Gulf countries, some of which included El-Sisi's voice, he asserted that he did not utter any talk that is offensive or out of line against anyone, including the state, factions, groups or bodies, nor allowed anyone to do so in his presence.

"Support from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait are the main reasons Egypt was able to withstand challenges and difficulties after the 30 June[the uprising against ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi]," he said.

"We will never offend you, we are with you," El-Sisi said and added that Saudi's King Salman as well as rulers of other Gulf countries showed understanding to what is being "plotted" against Egypt and the Gulf. 

Progress on social justice, business climate

El-Sisi commenced his discussion on the Egyptian economy with a focus on social justice, saying the state is contributing half a billion Egyptian pounds, along with the 'Long Live Egypt' fund which he launched in 2013, to develop Cairo's Duweia, one of the capital's major slums. 

LE1.6 billion was allocated for the development of poverty-stricken villages and LE100 million to street children, said El-Sisi. "This is a preliminary figure, more money will be allocated for this issue," he said.

El-Sisi also revealed Small farmers' debts have been dropped and that the state is pushing forth with small and micro-business projects he said are aimed at reducing unemployment and providing opportunities for low-income groups.

Egypt's government and the Suez Canal Authority will propose a group of projects in the upcoming international economic summit in March, which is of a major importance for the country, El-Sisi said.

He made assurances in his speech that efforts are underway to remove bureaucratic red tape and corruption which may scare off investors and that a new draft unified investment law will be issued very soon.

"Procedures to assure approval of investors' projects as soon as possible and with minimal effort are being taken," he said.

Accountability

On the thorny issue of police conduct, El-Sisi said any official found incompetent will be held accountable, mentioning the recent killing of leftist activist Shaimaa El-Sabagh and the Air Defence Stadium disaster in which 20 football fans died in a Cairo stadium.

"Anyone involved in such problems will be held accountable if proven guilty… both cases are being investigated by the general prosecutors, I don't interfere with judicial matters," he said, before lavishing praise on Egypt's judiciary.

The president also conceded the existence of unjustly imprisoned Egyptians, mentioning his meeting with journalists who brought up the issue with him.

During the coming days, the first group of imprisoned youth will be released in accordance with law, the president said.

Egyptian rights groups and parties had presented Egypt's presidency with lists of names they said were eligible to be freed, but their hopes for their release on the revolution's fourth anniversary on 25 January were dashed when no such decision was taken.

El-Sisi concluded by declaring that "God willing, no one will subdue the will of Egyptians who revolted on the 25 of January [2011] and 30 June [2013]."

"We will succeed despite difficulties… We Egyptian seek peace, security, stability, development and good… Pray for Egypt… Long live Egypt," he said.

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