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Egypt’s Sisi ignores criticism, vaunts economic achievements

May 5, 2016

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi vaunted on Thursday his “unprecedented” economic achievements, ignoring mounting criticism by opponents and the press after police raided a journalists’ union to arrest two reporters.

Sisi, a former army chief who toppled his Islamist predecessor in 2013, has faced steadily growing dissent over what critics call his regime’s heavy handedness.

On Thursday, several private Egyptian newspapers called on him to apologise for a police raid on Sunday to arrest two reporters inside the Journalists’ Syndicate in Cairo.

A day earlier hundreds of journalists protested at the syndicate’s headquarters in Cairo and demanded that the interior minister be sacked.

But in a live address broadcast on state television Sisi — who has shown little patience for critics in the past — ignored the furore and touted his economic accomplishments, warning again that “evil” people were conspiring against Egypt.

Sisi said that during a recent trip to the coastal city of Alexandria supporters shouted at him: “We are with you, don’t be scared!”

“I am talking to the Egyptian citizen who is telling me: ‘Don’t be scared.’ No, I am the one telling him not to be scared,” Sisi said, speaking at an event to kick off of a harvest of 1.5 million acres of crops on reclaimed agricultural land in western Egypt.

Sisi, who was elected in 2014, said what has been accomplished during his time in office was “unprecedented”.

He said Egyptians’ lives were being improved by a new network of roads and an increase in electrical production.

He also spoke about plans to build factories in Sinai to shore up the economy of the impoverished peninsula, where authorities are facing a deadly insurgency by jihadists from the Islamic State group.

– ‘People of evil’ –

Egypt’s economy has been damaged by turmoil since an uprising overthrew strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and jihadist attacks since have taken a toll on tourism.

The economy grew by 4.2 percent last year, according to International Monetary Fund figures, but has yet to return to pre-2011 expansion rates and the IMF expects growth to slow this year.

Tourism revenues slumped 15 percent in 2015 and Egypt’s foreign currency reserves are under intense pressure, falling to $17 billion in April from more than $36 billion in 2010.

Sisi said his task was to build a proper state.

“We are not a real state… we are talking about a state of law, and institutions, respected by the world,” he said.

But the stronger the state grows, he said, the more “the people of evil conspire” against it.

Sisi often makes such references to unidentified conspirators in his speeches, sometimes alluding to supporters of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, overthrown by Sisi in 2013 after just a year in office.

Following Morsi’s ouster, authorities killed hundreds of Islamist protesters and jailed thousands in a crackdown that extended to secular activists.

Sisi had been feted by millions of Egyptians who protested against Morsi’s divisive rule, and many say the country needs a strong leader after years of unrest.

But dissent is growing and some former allies have turned against Sisi, particularly over a resurgence in police abuses.

Last month, a deal to hand over two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia provoked a storm of outrage in Egypt, with more than 1,000 people holding a rare protest in Cairo to denounce the deal.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.