Egypt's Sisi says protests not priority under current circumstances

Ahram Online , Tuesday 20 Jan 2015

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi talks about human rights and terrorism at Police Day celebration

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi (Photo: State TV)

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has downplayed the importance of the right to protest, hinting that demonstrations are harmful to the country which has seen countless protests since the January 2011 revolution.

"Take care when you are demanding your rights, take care, don't lead us astray with you," he said on Tuesday in front of an audience of police officers at an early celebration of Police Day, repeating the final phrase three times.

El-Sisi – criticised by many observers for a security clampdown on political activity – claimed with confidence that he safeguards human rights more than most, but prioritises measures to alleviate the suffering of Egyptians, which he said could help 40 million of the 90 million strong population.

"I'm not saying protesting is rejected, no, I'm just saying we have given protests a certain standing that is, appreciated, but those 90 million want to eat, drink, live and feel secure about their future," he declared.

"Where is the citizen we are educating well, that we can provide good healthcare to, that we can prepare for the workplace, aren't these rights? Are you reducing the rights of the people to voicing their opinions? Keeping in mind that we are leaving everyone to say what they want," he said.

He followed his talk about protesting with the figure of $40 billion lost during the past four years from the drop in tourism.

He added, "There are things that can be accepted and others that may harm the country," without clarifying exactly what these "things" are.

A strict protest law has been in place since 2013 when protests by supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi were frequent, despite continuing demands by some non-Islamist political groups and pressure by Western countries to amend it.

El-Sisi also addressed what he said were "violations" of human rights by security forces, expressing his awareness that they take place.

"We do not approve of them, but this is an exceptional stage in Egypt's history," he stated.

Paying the global price for stability

Egypt's role in combating terrorism is global, and the country is paying the price to achieve not just national, or Arab stability, but regional, European and even global stability, El-Sisi said.

"Egypt warned the world of the consequences of terrorism, and was at the forefront of those who confronted it ... and called for the international community to stand against this latent danger that threatens the aspirations of all nations.

"Without this state, without Egypt, the condition of the region would have been different," he declared.

The president said 208 militants battling Egyptian security forces have been killed, and 955 arrested, half of whom were released without charge, he said.

While El-Sisi did not specify when these militants were killed, it is possibly during the period where militancy spiked, especially in North Sinai, after Morsi's ouster. Hundreds of police and army personnel were killed in these attacks.

El-Sisi said he mentioned the figures to show that no innocent people were killed in such confrontations, and assured that security is in a better state than it was "one or two years ago."

However, victory isn't swift in the fight against militancy, he said, mentioning the occasional attacks Egyptians are still seeing.

Police Day is on 25 January, the day on which a revolution erupted against the regime of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, leading to his ouster.

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