President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said during a TV interview on Tuesday that Egyptians should not feel scared of speaking out freely, and that he is not responsible for the fact that he is not facing strong competition in the upcoming presidential elections.
"[People] should speak as they like. I have no problem at all [with that], and no one should have a problem with [freedom of] speech," El-Sisi told popular film director Sandra Nashaat in the one-hour pre-recorded TV interview, which was titled ‘A nation and a President 2018.’
"People are free to express their opinion [in their words] and in their actions, but they are not free to harm the country with violent acts," El-Sisi said.
The president made the comments in response to a 10-minute clip with interviews of dozens of citizens in several parts of the country, who aired their grievances about their fear of imprisonment, tough economic conditions and soaring living costs.
El-Sisi urged Egyptians to think before they speak, saying that they could unintentionally create misconceptions about the situation in the country.
"If people keep repeating that the police take people, they will believe that there is an environment in Egypt where people cannot speak freely."
"The truth is that this does not exist, or at least there is no directive for this at all," he said.
Local media said that the interview, where El-Sisi appeared in the first half taking a morning walk along with Nashaat in a green space, was held in a military club.
El-Sisi is running for a second term in a presidential vote set for next week against a sole candidate, the obscure leader of the Ghad Party Moussa Mustafa Moussa.
The president said he should not be held responsible for the limited competition in the upcoming poll.
"It is not my fault. I swear to God I wished there would have been… 10 of the best [candidates] and [for people to] choose. But we are not ready yet, isn't it a shame?" he said in reference to the country's political landscape.
"We have more than 100 [political] parties, have they fielded many [candidates], or any?" El-Sisi asked.
Speaking about the army's perceived influence over the economy, the former defence minister said the military's economic activity makes up only around 2-3 percent of the country's gross domestic products, dismissing suggestions that the Armed Forces control as much as half of the economy.
The military’s economic activities have expanded over the years, varying from supplying food commodities, producing diverse goods and carrying out construction projects.
El-Sisi said the Armed Forces have a very limited presence in the food sector to regulate the market and offer goods at reduced prices. He said that the military's role in the construction industry serve state interests by carrying out projects at an accelerated pace.