President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s statements during his joint news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday reflected his confidence in the Egyptian people and clear understanding of their priorities amid very difficult domestic and regional circumstances.
Since he took office nearly five years ago, Al-Sisi has been commanding a country at war on several fronts, overcoming one challenge after the other and steering the country towards stability and economic development.
However, the key point that made many Egyptians proud was his understanding that his legitimacy is derived from his own people, reiterating that “I stand today here through Egyptian will, and if such will were no longer there, I would not stay for one day.”
After the army supported the popular demand to remove former president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July 2013, the Muslim Brotherhood group he belongs to declared war against Egypt as a state in alliance with terrorist organisations such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group in northern Sinai and the mainland.
The Muslim Brotherhood, supported by regional powers that wanted Egypt to sink into chaos like neighbouring Arab nations, spared no effort to claim to the world that Egypt was not stable, both politically and economically.
Nevertheless, through dialogue and objective presentation of realities on the ground, President Al-Sisi gradually restored Egypt’s ties with nearly all world countries that were not certain about the country’s future after Morsi’s removal.
Domestically, Egypt’s army and security forces offered precious sacrifices, including the martyrdom of hundreds, to protect their country from the evil of terrorism, protecting Egyptians and the rest of the world.
No objective observer can deny that terrorism in Egypt has largely been defeated, including in northern Sinai where the local population has joined the country’s army in confronting terrorist groups, namely IS and Al-Qaeda.
Indeed, the brave people of Sinai and the security forces paid a very heavy price, but they both recognised that there will be no future without a firm stand against terror groups that have spread all over the volatile region, with safe havens in several countries, including along Egypt’s borders.
On the economic front, Al-Sisi lacked no less courage or determination, taking several unprecedented steps that were delayed for decades to reform Egypt’s economy, encourage the growth of the private sector, provide working opportunities and meet the basic needs of the majority of its people.
Right now, international monetary organisations, as well as several key world investors, recognise the real growth Egypt’s economy managed to achieve and that this is the right country to invest and expand business in.
While fighting terrorism and working hard to rebuild the country’s economy and infrastructure, the president strongly repeated his commitment to the country’s constitution and the rule of law, which is a key tenant for development and stability.
Unlike claims made by international human rights groups that are not necessarily objective or aware of facts on the ground, the Egyptian president never sought to suppress freedom of expression or political freedoms.
While certain parties might differ with some of the measures taken, what cannot be questioned is that the rule of law prevails in Egypt, and is protected by an independent judiciary that Egyptians are proud of.
Meanwhile, as Al-Sisi rightly stated, Egypt “is not like Europe or the US”, and it has its own special circumstances and context.
It’s easy to criticise the human rights record in Egypt while living thousands of miles away from the troubled region in which Egypt is located.
Had Al-Sisi’s effort to confront terrorism failed to achieve its goals, we would have seen another failed religious state in Egypt, suppressing all those who differ with their narrow minded and sectarian ideology.
Again, as Al-Sisi stated, there is a huge difference indeed between freedom of expression and efforts to destroy the basic tenants of the modern Egyptian state.
Therefore, when local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and several friendly nations pointed to shortcomings in the law approved by parliament to organise NGO activities, Al-Sisi swiftly asked the respected minister of social solidarity to launch a wide-ranging dialogue with thousands of NGOs all over the country on the most urgent amendments needed.
Besides, it is not fair or correct to claim that NGOs face severe restrictions in Egypt. The reality is that more than 45,000 NGOs are operating in the country, while those complaining about alleged restrictions are hardly a dozen groups that do not want to abide by existing laws.
Considering the tough economic reforms Egypt had to go through, Al-Sisi and the government was fully aware of the negative effects these would have on many poor Egyptians.
In respect of their basic human rights, the government worked hard on several social projects to allow the poor to cope with rising living costs. Moreover, the key national, mega-projects Al-Sisi launched, such as the New Administrative Capital, provided thousands of working opportunities.
To disprove claims that the economic reforms he has been carrying have not benefitted the majority of Egyptians, Al-Sisi reminded his audience at the news conference of his efforts to provide proper housing for 250,000 people living in slums, despite the country’s dire economic situation and its ongoing fight against terrorism.
Major improvements also took place in the health and education sectors, also confirming the president’s view that providing the people’s basic needs is an integral part of his vision on human rights.