Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said on Wednesday it was unlikely that mass death sentences handed to hundreds of Islamists following the ouster of Mohamed Morsi will take place.
On the eve of his first visit as president to the UK, in an interview with BBC’s Lyse Doucet, El-Sisi said Egypt was on its way to building democratic institutions and defended his record in office.
According to the BBC, El-Sisi said that the executions of Islamists who received preliminary death sentences were improbable because many of those handed death sentences were convicted in absentia, and therefore could be retried if they turn themselves in, or were convicted in courts and have the right to appeal.
Hundreds of defendants, including leading Muslim Brotherhood figures like Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and others, have been sentenced to death on convictions of murder and acts of violence since the ouster of Morsi in 2013.
Hundreds of those sentenced to death in the past two years, including many members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, have either fled the country or remain at large within Egypt.
Some British rights groups charge that Cairo has cracked down on opposition, passed anti-democratic laws, sentenced opponents en masse to death, and curtailed freedom of expression.
In a letter published in The Guardian last week, several British MPs and human rights groups called on the UK to withdraw its invitation to El-Sisi.
The Egyptian president said the Muslim Brotherhood group is “part of Egypt,” and it’s up to the Egyptian people to determine what role they should play in the country’s future.
President El-Sisi has said on more than one occasion that those members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood who have not committed acts of violence are an equal part of society and are guaranteed equal rights.
He also said that he has no problems with the Brotherhood per se, rather the Egyptian people are the ones who have a "real problem" with the Muslim Brotherhood because they have resorted to violence.
In the BBC interview, the president also defended the controversial anti-terrorism legislation that he signed into law last August, adding that critics in the West had to appreciate the threats faced by Egypt, where Islamist militants have killed at least 600 security personnel over the past two years.
"Bring the environment of Europe here to Egypt and [we] would never need anything of the kind," El-Sisi told BBC.
He stressed that while it is fine for critics to monitor human rights in Egypt, it is still important to ask about the millions of Egyptians who are facing economic difficulties.
A few dozen Egyptian and British rights groups have called for demonstrations outside Downing Street to protest against El-Sisi’s "crimes."
Since Morsi’s ouster, the UK was one of several Western allies of Egypt who had concerns about the democratic future of the country.
However, Britain's initial reservations faded over time following several meetings between officials from both countries.
“Egypt plays a vital political and strategic role in the region in supporting stability in the Middle East and confronting danger caused by terrorist groups along with assisting in advocating political solutions for the region's crises. Egypt is a critical country, in a critical region, at a critical time,” a statement issued by the UK embassy in Cairo read.
British Ambassador to Egypt John Casson has recently stressed that Egypt plays a major role in fighting ISIS and extremist teachings on both a governmental and public level.
Casson noted that London values its relationship with Cairo, stressing that the UK is the largest foreign investor in Egypt with $25 billion worth of investments since 2010.
Casson said that Egyptians should "await a surprise" during El-Sisi’s visit, hinting at the possibility of new partnership deals between the two countries.
El-Sisi insisted that Egypt was still on the path of democracy that started during the 2011 revolution, yet the country still needs time to achieve its goals.
He added that while what has been achieved until now may not be the best, they will still work to make progress and honour the choices of Egyptians who have been calling for change for four years.
El-Sisi told the BBC that the low turnout in the first stage of the parliamentary elections, which was completed last week, was neither unexpected nor proof of growing disenchantment with his rule.
Some 7,270,594 out of 27,402,353 registered voters - or 26.56 percent of the electorate - cast their ballots in the first round of elections, which was completed last week.
When asked by Doucet about his take on the Libyan crisis, El-Sisi urged the UK and other European nations that took part in the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 to assist Egypt in securing its 1,000km border with Libya and preventing the spread of terrorism.