Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el Sisi's bizarre statements reached new heights when he suggested that his fellow citizens are not ready for the prosperity enjoyed by Europeans.
During the EU-Arab Summit on February 24 in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh, the country’s President Abdel Fattah el Sisi suggested that Egyptians have not yet come to the point where they can enjoy the “prosperity” of their European neighbours.
Sisi, who toppled the first democratically-elected president in a military coup in 2013, wanted to use the stage to bring more legitimacy to his autocratic rule that has jailed thousands of people, banned opposition groups and committed serious rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity, according to human rights groups.
"Europe's priority is to achieve and preserve prosperity, but our priority is to preserve our country and prevent it from collapsing, as has happened to several of our neighbours in the region," the autocratic leader said.
By saying that Egypt is currently barely surviving while Europeans deserve better living conditions and prosperity, Sisi appears to insult his own country and people. Sisi also suggested that Europe and the Middle East have a different “sense of humanity, values and ethics,” apparently excusing his administration's human rights violations.
“It’s a silly statement,” said Hamza Zawba, the former spokesman of the Freedom and Justice Party, which was governing Egypt before the coup and has been banned by Sisi since he took over.
Zawba now hosts a television show at Mekameleen TV, one of the most popular channels broadcasting from Turkey’s Istanbul.
“He is talking about our humanity and your humanity. Humanity is one. There are no different humanities. He says our values and your values. What are our values?” Zawba asked, demanding an explanation from Sisi about how Egyptian values justify killing innocent people and those whose crimes cannot be proven.
The EU-Arab summit took place a week after the Sisi government hanged nine Egyptian youth, who were accused of conspiring to kill Hisham Barakat, Egypt’s former prosecutor general. All of the accused stated in publicly-available court testimonies that they had been repeatedly tortured by their captors during their imprisonment.
According to Zawba, despite having a high-profile meeting with European leaders in Sharm el Sheikh, Sisi was not able to manage to convince them that “he is a real leader.”
“At the end of the conference, he was screaming and shouting at them,” Zawba said, referring to Sisi’s “prosperity” statement, which came during a press conference at the end of the summit.
“At the end of the day, they discovered the reality of General Sisi. He is a general. He was a general. And he will be a general. He will never change [his attitude] in respect to Egyptians. He has to give orders, and people have to submit to him,” said Zawba.
Zawba commented that Sisi’s new statement is in line with his previous controversial statements, in which the Egyptian strongman has complained about the high number of children born in the country and the number of university graduates who need to be employed after graduation.
“He has had six years in power, and he did nothing for his country. While he constantly talks about stability and instability, he described the Egyptian state as a semi-failed one, saying that Egypt looks like a failed country,” Zawba told TRT World.
During his rule, Sisi has managed to secure more than $100 billion from his Gulf allies, but he cannot make any significant change in the paradigms of the country’s economics, Zawba said.
“Where is our money?” he asked.
Experts argue that economic conditions for ordinary Egyptians have gotten worse since the coup and Sisi’s hardline tactics against opposition groups have further increased divisions and instability in the country, which has long been regarded as one of the Middle East’s heavyweight powers.
But despite worsening economic conditions and other problems, Sisi managed to get a unanimous standing ovation from the Egyptian press corps during the press conference, showing the audience that the free media is also under threat in Egypt.
“I really appreciate how enthusiastic your media are,” Donald Tusk, the European Council President, joked at the press conference, standing next to Sisi. “It’s impossible in Europe to have such a reaction. Congratulations,” Tusk added.
Zawba described the Egyptian press applause as a “masquerade” saying, “People are laughing his [Sisi’s] mocking words.”
The summit was also marked by other controversies.
At the same press conference, Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit suggested that the participants of the meeting had not discussed Egypt’s human rights issues at all.
"No one, in particular, talked about one country or another, or the practices in one country or another," he said.
However, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker publicly contradicted Gheit’s account, saying, "It is not true that we did not talk about human rights."
Jucker indicated that the issue had been discussed behind closed doors.
While the summit has shown Sisi’s shortcomings, it has also demonstrated European “hypocrisy”, regarding Middle East’s autocrats, Zawba said.
“Sometimes you have to dance with whoever’s on the dance floor. We don’t always have a choice,” Dutch Foreign Minister Mark Rutte suggested in Zurich in early February, apparently confessing to a European alignment with autocratic regimes like Sisi’s.
Due to European fears of political Islam and migration, the EU has chosen to work with autocrats like Sisi, according to Zawba.
“Europe does not like to see the prosperity of our region,” Zawba said. Because Sisi is publicly talking about updating Islam and conducting suppressive measures over Islamic educational institutions like Al Azhar, he appeals to Europeans, Zawba believes.
“They believe in him. But they don’t believe in our blood which has been [shed] on the streets every day and night,” Zawba concluded.