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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 July 2018

Egypt's Sisi says country on 'right track' despite online criticism

He spoke on the anniversary of mass protests that propelled him to power

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi. The country is recovering under his tenure. Reuters
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi. The country is recovering under his tenure. Reuters

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi said on Saturday Egypt was on the "right track" to rebuild its economy after years of instability that had nearly brought the country to its knees.

Speaking on the anniversary of 2013 mass protests that helped propel him into power, President Sisi said Egypt had faced challenges, including political instability, armed insurgency and an economic meltdown since 2011 protests forced President Hosni Mubarak from power after more than 30 years in office.

"I tell you in all objectivity, every Egyptian man and woman is entitled to feel proud for what his country has achieved in facing the three challenges, and in record time," President Sisi said in a televised speech.

President Sisi, who was elected for a second term in March, has been pushing ahead with economic reforms required under a three-year, $12 billion IMF loan that have left many of Egypt's 100 million people struggling to make ends meet.

He called on Egyptians to last through the tough measures, which include steep price increases on fuel, drinking water and electricity.

Spurred by the painful reforms, an online campaign calling for Sisi to step down has gathered momentum in recent weeks.

"The results that have been achieved until now indicate we are on the right path," President Sisi said, citing positive economic indicators, including a record $44bn in foreign reserves and economic growth of 5.4 per cent.

Human rights groups accuse President Sisi of presiding over a crackdown on dissent as he pushes ahead with the reforms, that have included raising prices for fuel, electricity and public transportation.

The Egyptian military and security forces, under President Sisi's orders, have been conducting a major operation in Sinai this year, trying to crush militants behind a wave of attacks that had killed hundreds.

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Analysts say the reforms have eroded his once soaring popularity, but to what extent is hard to gauge since scores of websites have been banned in the past year and opponents rounded up, often on charges of spreading fake news.

In an unprecedented show of digital dissent, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians have taken to Twitter in recent weeks, to voice their discontent and call for President Sisi to step down.

The hashtag campaign that translates roughly to #Sisi–leave gathered strength after the government announced the fuel and electricity subsidy cuts.

But in his speech on Saturday, President Sisi said Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country, could not afford to put off implementing the reforms even if they cause pain.

"It is without a doubt that the road to true reform is difficult and cruel and that it causes much suffering, but it is also without a doubt that the suffering which comes from the lack of reform is much greater," President Sisi said.

Despite the criticism, he said that his plans for the Egyptian economy would see it grow by more than seven per cent in the years to come.

said his program will spur economic growth by over seven percent in the coming years.

"This will change the reality of life in all of Egypt," he added.