Egyp­tian pres­i­dent calls for de-es­ca­la­tion with Iran

Marlborough Express - - WORLD -

EGYPT: Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah al-Sisi said yes­ter­day he was against mil­i­tary strikes on Iran or the Tehran-backed Le­banese group Hezbol­lah, say­ing there was enough tur­moil in the Mid­dle East.

In a meet­ing with a group of jour­nal­ists, Sisi also pledged sup­port for Saudi Ara­bia in its stand­off with Iran.

Asked about the prospect of at­tacks on Iran and Hezbol­lah – two days af­ter Saudi Ara­bia had ac­cused Le­banon of declar­ing war be­cause of Hezbol­lah’s ‘‘ag­gres­sive ac­tions’’ – Sisi stressed the im­por­tance of de-es­ca­la­tion. ‘‘I am al­ways against war,’’ he said, with­out spell­ing out who might be in­volved in mil­i­tary ac­tion.

Sunni pow­er­house Saudi Ara­bia called for sanc­tions against Hezbol­lah this week and ac­cused Iran of sup­ply­ing Ye­men’s Houthis with mis­siles used to tar­get it.

‘‘I have said it once and I will say it again, Gulf na­tional se­cu­rity is Egyp­tian na­tional se­cu­rity. I have faith in the wise and firm lead­er­ship of Saudi Ara­bia,’’ Sisi said.

He said the sit­u­a­tion in the king­dom was ‘‘re­as­sur­ing and sta­ble’’ fol­low­ing last week­end’s ar­rests of 11 princes, for­mer and cur­rent min­is­ters, and a group of elite busi­ness­men on cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions.

They face al­le­ga­tions of money laun­der­ing, bribery, ex­tor­tion and ex­ploit­ing pub­lic of­fice for per­sonal gain.

Sisi stressed his back­ing of Saudi Ara­bia and other Gulf Arab states, which have show­ered Egypt with aid since the gen­eral-turned­pres­i­dent led the mil­i­tary’s ouster of for­mer Pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Mursi of the Mus­lim Brother­hood in 2013 fol­low­ing mass protests.

Le­banon has been thrust to the cen­tre of re­gional ri­valry be­tween Saudi Ara­bia and Iran since the Saudi-al­lied Le­banese politi­cian Saad al-Hariri quit as prime min­is­ter on Satur­day, blam­ing Iran and Hezbol­lah in his res­ig­na­tion speech.

Hezbol­lah is both a mil­i­tary and a po­lit­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tion that is rep­re­sented in the Le­banese par­lia­ment and in the Hariri-led coali­tion gov­ern­ment formed last year.

Its pow­er­ful guer­rilla army is widely seen as stronger than the Le­banese army, and has played a ma­jor role in the war in neigh­bour­ing Syria, an­other theatre of Saudi-Ira­nian ri­valry where Hezbol­lah has fought in sup­port of the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment.

Sisi was elected a year af­ter he ousted Mursi and his first fouryear term ends next year. He would not be drawn on when he would an­nounce a re-elec­tion bid, al­though he is widely ex­pected to run and win. He hinted at do­ing so by Fe­bru­ary.

‘‘I have to present achieve­ments over the past four years to Egyp­tians first, be­fore say­ing whether I will run or not. I will do this over the next two months, De­cem­ber and Jan­uary, and based on their re­sponse I will reach a po­si­tion on run­ning.’’

One can­di­date has al­ready de­clared his in­ten­tion to chal­lenge Sisi. Rights lawyer Khaled Ali an­nounced his 2018 bid on Mon­day in a speech crit­i­cis­ing Sisi’s ad­min­is­tra­tion; ac­cus­ing it of sup­press­ing free­doms and caus­ing de­te­ri­o­rat­ing eco­nomic and se­cu­rity con­di­tions.

Egypt’s econ­omy has been strug­gling to re­cover since a 2011 up­ris­ing scared away tourists and in­vestors, two main sources of for­eign cur­rency, but a three-year In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund pro­gramme is ex­pected to help re­store con­fi­dence.

The IMF pro­gramme is tied to harsh re­forms, chief of which was the cen­tral bank’s de­ci­sion to float the pound cur­rency last year, which halved its value.

Sisi said yes­ter­day he ex­pected the pound to rally in the near fu­ture.

‘‘I ex­pect that the ex­change rate will strengthen in the com­ing pe­riod, be­cause all the prob­lems that cre­ated the cri­sis over the past few years be­fore the float, I be­lieve, have been solved,’’ he said.

Tourism, a ma­jor source of hard cur­rency, took a mas­sive hit in 2015 when Rus­sia sus­pended flights to Egypt, af­ter Is­lamic State blew a plane out of the air that took off from Sharm al-Sheikh, the Red Sea re­sort in which Sisi was speak­ing on Wed­nes­day, killing all 224 peo­ple, mostly Rus­sians, on board.

Sisi said he was not press­ing the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment to re­store flights be­cause he un­der­stood its need to pro­tect its cit­i­zens.

‘‘I have never, and will never, in­sist on the restora­tion of flights,’’ he said.

He said se­cu­rity forces were mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant gains against mil­i­tants, how­ever. The mil­i­tary had cap­tured a for­eign fighter in a raid it car­ried out against mil­i­tants re­spon­si­ble for a deadly at­tack on a police con­voy in Egypt’s Western Desert last month.

Three se­cu­rity sources said at the time that at least 52 police of­fi­cers and con­scripts were killed on Oc­to­ber 21 when their pa­trol came un­der at­tack, but the in­te­rior min­istry re­but­ted the fig­ure the next day and said only 16 po­lice­men had been killed. – Reuters

PHOTO: REUTERS

Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah al-Sisi, left, rides a ve­hi­cle with Egypt’s Min­is­ter of De­fence Sedki Sobhi dur­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion of com­bat ef­fi­ciency and equip­ment of the armed forces in Suez.

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