In a debate session held on Sunday evening on the sidelines of the second edition of the World Youth Fourm in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi answered a wide range of queries from participants, commenting on issues including the situation in Yemen, the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the possibility of a unified African currency, and amending the current NGO law.
The World Youth Forum was inaugurated by El-Sisi on Saturday and runs until tuesday in the resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh.
The situation in Yemen
El-Sisi defended Egypt’s stance on the crisis in Yemen, saying that the conflict in the war-ravaged country is far more complex than simply a struggle between the government and the Houthis.
Egypt chose not to interfere in the Yemeni crisis because the war in Yemen is a proxy war in which other countries are involved, the president said, answering a question on the issue.
The conflicts in the world, and in the Islamic world, including in the Arab countries, are complicated and need great efforts and a huge influencing power to be settled, he said.
Egypt is very much aware of its limits and its powers and its stance in the case of Yemen has been based on its knowledge that it cannot influence some of the parties involved in the conflict, he argued.
El-Sisi acknowledged that the same view applies to other conflict-hit areas in the region, including Syria, Libya and Afghanistan.
“I hope that there will be an end to all these conflicts so that the people of these countries will be able to live in security and peace,” he said.
The Khashoggi murder
When asked about Egypt’s stance in support of Saudi Arabia after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in Turkey, El-Sisi said that the case is subject to investigations from the Saudi and Turkish authorities, so everyone should wait to see their outcome.
Warning of jumping to conclusions, he said “I wonder why is it that there is always doubt in what people in our region say.”
“Take Egypt for example; the public tend to be sceptical whenever any official promises them that justice will be served.”
He warned against politicising legal issues and interfering in judicial decisions, citing the example of when some European countries criticised death sentences issued by Egyptian courts against terrorists who attacked churches and mosques.
Although Egyptian law and international law allow for using the death penalty, the court rulings were rejected by these countries because their cultures are against such kind of penalties, he said. “We respect that ... but we also ask them to respect the will of the Egyptian nation and its desire to protect its own security,” he said.
He also said that he supports Saudi Arabia because he wants to protect the stability of all regional nations, for the simple fact that “our region cannot bear any more turmoil”, like in Libya, Syria, Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan and some African countries, which has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions.
El-Sisi said that he understands the reasons that leaders of some countries across the world to decide to close their borders in the face of refugees fleeing to them from conflict zones.
“Each country has the right to protect its own people and its own national interests. All countries are obliged to respect human rights but they also need to protect their own national interests,” he said.
Unified African currency ‘dream’
He urged people in war-hit countries to seek an end to their conflicts and to take a firm stand to resolve their own problems, iron out their differences and stem the bloodshed. “They have to turn their focus to rebuilding their nations,” he said.
El-Sisi described the idea of launching a unified African currency as a dream that needs hard collective work to be fulfilled.
It is a step that needs the concerted efforts of all African countries, he said.
Citing the European countries’ launch of the euro as an example, he said that this step took Europe great efforts and meticulously organised institutional work that was based on sound economic foundations.
Such matters as having a unified African currency cannot be based on desires and wishes alone, he said.
The European experiment took over 40 years of lengthy debates to materialise, and though this culminated in the establishment of the European Union, the whole process is now being reviewed and reassessed, he also said.
As far as Africa is concerned “I think that the things that really matter right now and that should be at the forefront are stemming the bloodshed and realizing stability and security”, in addition to pushing up growth rates in a way that meets the aspirations of the peoples of all African nations, El-Sisi added.
Amending the NGOs law
On domestic issues, El-Sisi has agreed on forming a committee and holding a social dialogue to amend the law on non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
El-Sisi made the move after a meeting with a group of young people on the sidelines of the World Youth Forum, when one of the participants raised the issue for discussion, saying that the legislation needs reconsideration and the use of the president's constitutional powers.
The president said he agreed with her on the need to address the current law’s shortcomings.
He urged the state's relevant bodies to revisit the issue and move to bring their proposed amendments to the House of Representatives to be examined.
Egypt's Parliament issued the 89-article NGOs law in November 2016 and it was ratified by El-Sisi in May 2017. The law has garnered huge criticism since its drafting from civil society in Egypt because some of its provisions are believed to limit the activities of NGOs.
El-Sisi said that there are over 50,000 NGOs and civil society organisations operating in Egypt and doing superb work, which the state needs in order to be able to reach out to and support all those who are really in need.
He asserted that the state is keen on making sure that the law regulating the work of these organisations would be balanced and help them in carrying out their mission efficiently and effectively.
A call for Palestinian unity
El-Sisi also expressed keenness for reconciling Palestinian factions and calming conditions in the Gaza Strip to alleviate the sufferings of its people.
He called for Palestinian unity, reiterating Egypt’s firm stance in support of the Palestinian cause and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state that lives in peace alongside the state of Israel.
When asked about Egypt’s efforts to strengthen ties with the developing countries in Southeast Asia, El-Sisi asserted that Egypt seeks to foster its relations with all countries in the world, and not just those in the Southeast Asian region.
“We want our relations with other countries to be balanced and away from political polarisation,” he said.
“We are moving on all directions to develop our relations with everyone, for Egypt needs to cooperate with them all and to keep constantly in touch with each and every country all around the world for the mutual benefit of their peoples.”