Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi's visit to Paris was exceptional in many ways. In addition to the host of files the president discussed in France, El-Sisi opened new horizons for collaboration with Paris based on openness and mutual respect, building a new bridge of understanding on solid grounds of coordination. The press conference El-Sisi and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron held dealt not with the traditional diplomatic relations between the two countries, but rather with opening wounds and raising controversial issues in a civilised manner.
Heated discussions over human rights and freedom of speech between the two sides took place especially after the events that took place in France due to the publication of Prophet Muhammad's cartoons that hurt the feelings of Muslims around the world.
El-Sisi said everyone has the right to choose their religion; it is a basic right that should be respected and "no one should be forced to embrace a certain faith." Yet, it is equally important, El-Sisi said, to draw a clear and decisive line between respecting freedom of speech and abusing the religious symbols of "others". Ridiculing the "sacred" values and principles of billions of people was not a matter of freedom of speech, but rather a demeaning and abusive way of looking at others.
President El-Sisi has thus focused on a rather more significant issue, which is radicalism, be it religious or secular. Radical secularists or religionists are equally dangerous because they both enact and instigate hatred, disrespect of those who are "different" and promote intolerance. It is significantly important to promote the freedom of speech alongside the responsibility of that speech. Words have been used to either develop better human ties or to launch rockets of hatred and wars among peoples. Freedom of speech ends where abuse begins. The price of instigating hatred and ridiculing religions is unaffordable.
President El-Sisi denounced radical secularists as much as he condemned radical religious groups that have been terrorising people. Terrorist groups have also been promoting hatred, hiding their terrorising messages under the cover of religion. As the president recalled incidents of terror that took place in Europe, he reminded the Parisians that Egypt and a good number of Arab and Muslim countries have also been paying a heavy price because of terrorists groups. The Muslim Brotherhood, a group that has been operating in Europe under the banner of the lack of freedom necessary for their survival, has been behind much of the terror groups and the many crimes conducted in Egypt.
We should first respect and promote peoples’ right to live and be secure before talking about the freedom of speech. Manipulating the concept of free expression, terrorists have launched their campaigns with destructive ideas that ended the lives of thousands and exercised oppression and violence. Promoting violence and hatred has nothing to do with the freedom of expression and should not be regarded as part of human rights.
Terrorist groups found a safe haven in countries promoting human rights and freedom of speech. These countries offered violent groups security based on their right to express themselves, but in the name of that freedom the groups destroyed the lives of people.
In his interview with Le Figaro, President El-Sisi highlighted the two sides of the coin, simply because one can hardly see the whole picture looking from one side. Terrorists played the role of victims before they victimised the whole world. The difference between Islam and Islamist groups was made clear by the president. That differentiation was badly needed, otherwise Muslims around the world would pay dearly because of the violent acts committed by terrorist groups. In fact, there is currently a vicious cycle of violence, and radicalism, be it religious or secular, is mushrooming in Europe.
Terrorism has been part of other files of interest to the two sides in Paris and Cairo. Terrorist groups have been the military arm of Turkey and the means to achieve its expansionist plan in the region. Europe realised the Turkish manipulation of terrorist groups and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ambitious plans in the Middle East. Ankara has been sponsoring terrorists in region, moving them from Iraq to Syria and to Libya. Such realisation could be behind the tendency to strengthen the European-Egyptian partnership, especially when it comes to combating terrorism and settling the Libyan crisis.
Moreover, the Europeans and Egyptians have a better understanding on means of settling the issues of gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean to combat the expansionist plans of Erdogan who has been threatening the area with his sponsored terrorist groups and the millions of displaced and migrants who have been flooding the shores of Europe.