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11 May 2014 10:06
A volunteer puts up posters of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the El Gamaliya district in Cairo on May 9 2014. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters)
Presidential frontrunner Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who ousted elected leader Mohamed Morsi, has prioritised stability over
freedoms, insisting it will take up to 25 years for Egypt to achieve
Three years after millions of protesters demanding
“bread, freedom and social justice” ousted strongman Hosni Mubarak’s
regime, Sisi warned such aspirations were hindering national security
and slowing a much-needed economic recovery.
“You write in the newspaper, ‘No voice is louder than
freedom of speech!’ What is this?” Sisi asked a group of Egyptian
journalists at a round-table meeting in Cairo this week.
“What tourist would come to a country where we have
demonstrations like this? Are you forgetting that there are millions of
people and families who can’t earn their living because of the protests.
It is one of the manifestations of instability.”
Since 2011, Egypt has seen two presidents ousted after
mass street protests, a deadly crackdown on protesters that has killed
scores, and a spate of militant attacks that has left the country deeply
polarised and its economy in shambles.
The situation was further aggravated when the interim
authorities installed by Sisi passed a law that bans all but
Several top campaigners of the 2011 anti-Mubarak
uprising have been jailed for breaking the protest law, while a brutal
government crackdown against supporters of Morsi has killed more than
1 400 people since his ouster in July last year.
While there has been international outrage over the
crackdown that has also seen hundreds of Morsi supporters sentenced to
death after speedy trials, Egyptian media has largely backed the
“The number of television channels that are shut down,
the number of journalists who are in detention, the number of political
prisoners who are in jails… all this is unprecedented,” said Osama
Diab, analyst with Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
Sisi was attempting a “trade-off between freedoms and stability which we have been living for the past 30, 40 or even 50 years”.
“You can have human rights only when stability is based
on genuine democratic principles and not on perceived short-term
Sisi said the authorities needed time to perform.
“Give officials a chance for say, four months,” said
the retired field marshal who is expected to trounce his only rival,
leftist leader Hamdeen Sabbahi, in the May 26-27 presidential election.
“If you have information on an issue, whisper it in the
ear of an official instead of exposing it,” he said at the round-table,
excerpts of which were broadcast by private television networks.
During the round-table as well as in a separate
television interview aired on Tuesday and Wednesday, Sisi repeatedly
spoke of stability and showed unflinching determination to fight the
Muslim Brotherhood to which Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected
A senior journalist at a leading Egyptian newspaper
said what Sisi meant was that the media must be more “accurate” in its
“Sisi, who comes from military ranks, will not tolerate
under the guise of freedom of speech any inappropriate criticisms that
could threaten national security,” he said, on condition of anonymity.
Karim Bitar, research head at the Paris-based International and Strategic Relations Institute, was unconvinced, however.
“These remarks show that Sisi did not understand the
lesson of the Arab Spring. They reflect an authoritarian, nationalist,
conservative and an anti-liberal mind,” said Bitar.
“It also brings back the idea that Arabs have to
sacrifice their aspirations of liberty and democracy for the sake of
Sisi said that given the situation in Egypt, which
cannot be compared to Western democracies, it could take “20 to 25 years
to achieve true democracy” in the Arab world’s most populous country.
Bitar said “this will strike a chord with those who want a return to law and order after the post-revolution turbulence”.
“But they will soon be disillusioned when they realise
that the ongoing repressive measures are sowing the seeds of future
instability.” - Reuters
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