Sissi will not guarantee the freedom of assembly or the press if elected president. In a four hour meeting with 20 prominent Egyptian newspaper editors, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt’s leading presidential candidate and former military chief, discussed his vision of Egypt’s future.
He warned that freedom of speech, assembly, and other reforms associated with Western democracy may take up to 25 years to achieve in Egypt. Such activities, without government guidance, lead to the type of protests Egypt has experienced since 2011. Those protests jeopardize national security and stability.
In the election set to be held at the end of May, Sissi wants the people supporting his presidency. His overall goal is to preserve the Egyptian state. Should he lose the trust of the electorate, Sissi promised to peacefully step down and would not have to be asked twice to leave. His words echo that of former President Mohammed Morsi who made a similar campaign promise in 2012.
Despite his lack of faith in the freedom of assembly or the press, Sissi has the backing of the Egyptian military. Hope, security, and stability are his campaign platforms.
Sissi warned the editors he spoke with to stop scaring Egyptians with outrageous new coverage. Such reports lead to uneasiness among Egyptians. When the media present pictures of Egyptians protesting in the streets, those images paint Egypt in a bad light to the rest of the world.
As for freedom of the press, Sissi criticized the Egyptian media for stating there could be no voice louder than freedom of speech. Such a statement held little credence with him. He argued what tourist would visit a country where demonstrations take place daily.
Millions of Egyptians make their living from tourism. Employees and the people who support airports, hotels, restaurants, museums, taxis drivers, and antiquity dealers all benefit from tourism. That industry has suffered a 30 percent decline since 2011.
Sissi asked the editors he spoke with to avoid negative stories about Egypt. He suggested the new government should have a four month grace period. If there was a subject that required discussion, it was better for members of the media to hold private meetings with government officials. Sensational headlines lead to riots.
He gave an example of such coverage. The media has given regular reports of rolling blackouts across Egypt due to a lack of fuel. During the winter months, when power usage was low, the problem was not as acute. The situation will worsen during the summer months. Instead of causing hysteria with news stories about upcoming power shortages, the media should interview experts with knowledge about alternative forms of energy.
Sissi opposes the lack of transparency that came with previous governments. Those in power should provide the people information instead of negative reports. Transparency ought to be one of the basic principles of national security.
Egypt cannot endure further instability. Making idealistic demands that cannot be delivered does more harm than good. Any attempt to practice democracy would lead to further setbacks for the nation. Western democracies have had hundreds of years to practice the art of assembly and the press. Achieving such stability in Egypt would take up to 25 years to achieve. Freedom of speech and assembly under a Sissi presidency will have to wait until there is more stability and security.
By Brian T. Yates