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EGYPT

Egyptian presidential candidate el-Sissi warns editors not to push freedom

Sisi, front runner for president, says demands for free speech put national security at risk

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 May, 2014, 9:36pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 May, 2014, 9:36pm
 

Egypt's top presidential candidate, the former military chief, has warned newspaper editors not to press issues of freedom of speech and other rights or campaign for democratic reforms.

He said demands and protests jeopardised national security and that full democracy was an "idealistic" goal that could take 25 years to reach.

Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi also said he would "walk away" if people rose up against him and demanded that he step down.

This was a promise also once made by Islamist president Mohammed Mursi, who in the end refused to resign in the face of massive protests, prompting Sisi to remove him from power last summer.

Sisi is seen as the overwhelming favourite to win the May 26-27 vote.

He has said his priority is restoring stability and making "leaps" in development to reduce poverty after three years of turmoil and violence since the 2011 toppling of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

In a four-hour meeting with about 20 editors of Egypt's main newspapers, Sisi said freedoms must be balanced with security and that the media should focus on rallying the public behind "the strategic goal" of "preserving the Egyptian state".

Sisi warned the editors against "scaring people" with coverage that "creates scepticism or uneasiness in society".

Speaking about protests, he said: "You write in the newspaper, 'No voice is louder than freedom of speech!' What is this? What tourist would come to a country where we have demonstrations like this? There are millions of people and families who can't earn their living because of the protests. It is one of the manifestations of instability."

Most of the papers whose editors attended the meeting, while reporting the comments, focused their headlines on Sisi's remarks about plans to fight corruption and poverty and his readiness to leave power.

Sisi also told the editors not to launch negative campaigns but give the new government time to work.

"Give officials a chance for, say, four months," he said. "If you have information or a subject you need to whisper in the ear of officials, it is possible to do that without exposing it."

Still, he said he was opposed to the past governments' lack of transparency, saying authorities must provide information to the people to counter negative reports. "Transparency is one of the basics of national security," he said.

Sisi said Egypt "cannot bear" more uneasiness.

"You are making an idealistic demand in a situation that is very painful ... This is democracy?" he said. "I fear that while we are practising (democracy), we won't find a nation."

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