At the third National Youth Conference in Ismailia, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi answered a selection of questions submitted through a new initiative “Esaal al-Ra'ees” (Ask the President) which allowed Egyptians to freely submit their questions to the president. According to state-run newspaper Al-Ahram, Sisi was sent about 172,000 questions in total.
The three-day conference began on Tuesday and covered a whole host of issues, at the top of which is combating price hikes of general goods and commodities, promoting state efforts to provide social and health care for citizens and achieving sustainable development in the petroleum and electricity sectors.
The questions that were selected for Sisi to answer touched on critical, controversial issues that have taken center stage in Egypt since he took office.
The Red Sea islands case
The president was questioned about his stance on the disputed sovereignty of the two Red Sea islands following the judicial verdict which nullified the maritime demarcation deal between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
The Cabinet has done its duty regarding the “technical part" by providing documents that place the two islands within Saudi territorial waters, Sisi said. The case was then referred to the judiciary and the Parliament, as part of Egypt's legal process.
Sisi said all Egyptians should respect the judiciary's verdict which stipulated Egyptian sovereignty over the two islands. He added that the government had previously informed Saudi Arabia that for this demarcation agreement to be ratified, it would have to pass through several stages, including the opinion of the Parliament and judiciary.
Terrorism is active in just 1 percent of the Sinai Peninsula
Regarding state security's counter-terrorism efforts, Sisi pointed out that there are foreign entities and countries providing support to terrorists in Egypt.
Despite this, he added, the army and police forces have achieved remarkable success in besieging terrorist groups and draining their resources.
Commenting on the recent violence against both Copts and state security, Sisi asserted that terrorism is active in just 1 percent of the total area of the Sinai Peninsula.
When asked about the violent attacks that targeted Copts in the North Sinai city of al-Arish, he answered that the terrorists' main goal was to destroy Egyptians' unity.
"We announced the establishment of the Higher Council to Combat Terrorism for the sake of ending the deliberate misuse of Islamic concepts to justify terrorism, killing and destruction,” he said.
On the second day of the state-run National Youth Conference, a Sinai citizen named Shaimaa Meshali strongly condemned the Egyptian media’s approach to military insurgency in Sinai, particularly that of talk show host Ahmed Moussa who had asked the government to forcibly displace Sinai residents and transfer them to other cities.
In response to her complaint, Sisi expressed his gratitude to Sinai residents, adding that what is being circulated on different media outlets does not necessarily represent the government's stance on the matter.
Egypt respects other countries' sovereignty
Moving to questions about Egypt's foreign relations with other countries, Sisi asserted that Egypt's foreign policy is based on non-interference in other countries' internal affairs; however, it will combat any foreign assault targeting it.
A political opposition fosters a good political atmosphere
In response to a question about what prevents Sisi from oppressing his opponents, such as what is happening in Turkey, as Egypt is in a state of war, Sisi expressed the government’s full respect of political opposition.
He explained that the presence of opposition groups is necessary to effectively contribute to the construction of a healthy political regime; therefore, he can not undertake any oppressive measures against them.
Egypt's economic growth
In response to questions on the slow progress of economic growth, Sisi noted that the rising population rates stand as obstacle to achieving rapid development.
However, he clarified that the economic reform program is achieving positive results—this is clear in the remarkable decline in the volume of imports and the increase in Egypt's export volume.