President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said that 90 percent of people languishing in Egypt’s prisons are incarcerated for committing criminal offenses, in an interview marking his second anniversary in office.
When asked about the remaining 10 percent, Sisi said he already looked into their cases three times.
“And I will look again for a fourth time,” he said. “It’s a very small number, but it’s all about how we portray it.”
In a 90-minute interview, Sisi reviewed Egypt’s accomplishments under his tenure, pointing to several impediments, including conspiracies against Egypt and the media’s effect on public opinion.
“Egypt is seen through our portrayals of it in the media and on social media,” he said. “We don’t want to hurt ourselves.”
The president affirmed that the country’s stability and development are everyone’s responsibility.
Sisi said that Egypt was able to overcome attempts to create rifts with other countries and was able to re-establish good relations with them, including Italy, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
The murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni in Egypt, a Russian plane crash near Sharm al-Sheikh and outrage following the sovereign transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia put Egypt’s relations with the three countries at stake. Sisi explained that these situations were systematically exploited to strain diplomatic relations, but that Egypt’s official approach to the matter thwarted such attempts.
“When we talk about an incident like the plane crash, and the media handles it in a way that is not in favor of our relations with this country, it harms us,” Sisi said. “We want to maintain the gains we have made and take the opportunity away from the person who is trying to create rifts.”
Sisi also referred to the need to regulate media, saying a media without any guidance would “fragment public opinion.”
Since the Constitution outlaws regulation of media, Egypt did away with the Ministry of Information in June 2014, he continued. “We experimented [with the absence of any regulation] and now we know that we need to sync our beat,” Sisi said. “What can I say? What can I not say? What helps the country and what harms it?”
When asked about international pressure on and condemnation of Egypt’s human rights record, Sisi stated that foreign states’ “notion” of human rights needs to change.
“I tell these states, you resolved all your issues,” the president said. “You consider freedom of expression and protests a point of discussion, but what about education, healthcare and employment, aren’t they human rights as well?”
“Why don’t you want to help us with this?” Sisi asked, adding that his priority is for “90 million people to live.”
He attributed this “pressure” on Egypt to the fact that it is a country that “respects itself and operates with principles that do not exist anymore and is keen on being independent.”
Sisi also rejected any attempts to raise questions or distort the image of Egypt’s state institutions, since they represent the country.
“We should respect and encourage them,” he stated. “Whoever does otherwise has an agenda.”
He also praised Egypt’s youth “who look out for their country,” dismissing any generation gap.
“We don’t speak a different language than them,” he claimed. “[The youth] are extremely aware.”
When asked how Egypt’s youth can upset him, the president said, “Nothing ever upsets me. How can anyone be mad at their children?”