Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was defensive about his human rights record at a press conference marking the arrival of French President Francois Hollande to Cairo on Sunday evening.
In comments that echoed a speech last Wednesday, Sisi repeatedly referred to conspiracies by evil actors intent on destroying Egypt.
“We are confronting the forces of evil in this region, which are exerting their utmost effort to heavily shake Egypt’s stability. They are attempting to give a wrongful impression regarding events in Egypt,” Sisi said in response to a question from a Francophone journalist about the deaths of Italian researcher Giulio Regeni and French teacher Eric Lang.
“What is transpiring is an attempt to destroy the institutions of the state — one institution at a time. Today there is an attack against the police institution, and attempts to pin accusations on it with the aim of bringing about the downfall of the Egyptian police,” he continued.
“Then accusations are pinned on the judiciary, to bring about the downfall of the Egyptian judiciary. Even parliament, which was chosen transparently in accordance with the will of the Egyptian populace, they are casting doubts upon it. You must be aware, listen and know that we are addressing you with confidence, in honesty, sincerity and with honor.”
“What is transpiring is an attempt to isolate Egypt from its Arab environs, and it European environs. Egypt’s relations with France and Italy are very good and distinguished relationships. We can never forget the assistance that France and Italy provided Egypt with when it was going through its most difficult times, what is happening now is an attempt to harm these relations and to isolate Egypt. It is an attempt to bring about Egypt’s downfall from within. It is important that you are aware of this,” the president continued.
“If the Egyptian state falls you don’t know what will happen to the Arab World and to Europe at large! We are not transgressing human rights, but the forces of evil are striving to give a negative impression as to what is happening in Egypt, and beyond Egypt,” he said.
Earlier in the press conference, Sisi said Egypt’s commitment to human rights should not be judged by “European standards,” because the Middle East is a “very volatile” region.
Instead, Sisi suggested that measures of human rights should include, “The provision of quality education and good housing.”
According to estimates from the Ministry of Housing, around 40 percent of people in Greater Cairo live in informal settlements. Egypt’s education system also consistently ranks near the bottom of global indices on primary and higher education.
For his part, Hollande simply confirmed that he had discussed the Regeni and Lang cases with Sisi. “The conditions surrounding their deaths are not known at the moment. We know that there are many questions being put forth, which will be answered at a later point in time,” he said.
Hollande provided his own definition of human rights: “Press freedoms, freedom of expression and a judicial system capable of responding to all these issues and questions.”
“Human rights are not a constraint. Human rights are also a way to fight against terrorism because security is assured,” Hollande said. “We must fight both the causes and consequences of terrorism.”
Hollande himself has faced criticism for pursuing a strategic relationship with Egypt amid mounting reports of human rights abuses. On the eve of his visit to Cairo, human rights groups called on French authorities to prioritize human rights concerns above security and economic interests. “Shying away from this on the pretext of strategic and military interests could lead to heavy responsibility for the French government,” warned rights group FiDH.
According to Egypt’s State Information Service, Hollande arrived with a delegation of representatives from more than 60 French companies, and a series of economic cooperation agreements are expected to be signed during his two-day visit.