Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has re-affirmed that security of Arab and Gulf states is inseparable from Egypt’s national security. “Any threat to the Gulf is a threat to Egypt,” the Egyptian president said during a meeting with representatives of Egyptian, Arab and foreign media organizations, held on sidelines of the World Youth Forum (WYF).
“We are on side of our brothers in the Gulf, security of which is part of Egypt’s security … this is a red line and the others must not meddle in our domestic affairs,” President el-Sisi said. On Egypt’s role in the inter-Palestinian conciliation, he affirmed that his country was seeking a “solution to achieve security” for the Palestinians, noting that the reconciliation was necessary for resuming the Middle East peace process.
He expressed rejection of a reported settlement according to which Palestinians would be settled in Sinai. “Neither me nor anybody else can compromise a single (square) meter of the Egyptian lands,” he said. President el-Sisi affirmed that the Egyptian Government forces must maintain top military capacities to face “the imbalance and terrorism in the region,” indicating that the so-called Islamic State (IS) militants, due to their defeat in Syria and Iraq, were building strongholds in Sinai.
El-Sisi urged the local, Arab and foreign media to report accurately and objectively about conditions in Egypt, based on official statements. On construction of Al-Nahda dam in Ethiopia, the president said water is a national security, “which we are capable of safeguarding.” Asked whether he intended to stand for a second term, el-Sisi replied that he would inform the Egyptian people about achievements.
made over the past period and that he would take a decision in this respect according to the Egyptians’ reaction. El-Sisi said the defeat of the extremist Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria was likely to have forced militants to seek a safe haven in neighboring Libya, from which they will later cross into his country where his security forces have been battling militants in the Sinai peninsula and, more recently, in its vast western desert.
El-Sisi also said Egypt’s ongoing arms buildup was designed in part to equip the country to deal with terrorism and redress the “strategic imbalance” in the region created by conflict and turmoil engulfing several countries in the area like Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. Egypt has since 2014 spent more than $10 billion on French-made Rafale fighter jets and helicopter carriers, MiG-29 fighter jets and assault helicopters from Russia and submarines from Germany. Moreover, Egypt receives $1.3 billion in annual US aid.
El-Sisi would not be drawn into specifics about militants leaving the battlefields in Iraq and Syria after they lost almost all territory they seized in 2013 and 2014. He said it was only “natural” for them to move to Libya, where mostly Islamist militias wield influence over large swathes of territory, and eventually to Egypt. “We must have the military capabilities that compensate for that imbalance in the region and to counter terrorism,” he said at a news conference late Wednesday.
“This is a threat not just faced by us, but also by Europe,” he told a wide-ranging, two-hour news conference in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in southern Sinai. There are no reliable estimates for the number of militants fighting Egyptian security forces, but they are believed by experts to number in the low thousands. Ominously, there has been an uptick in recent months in attacks in Egypt’s western desert close to the Libyan border, raising questions on whether the area has become a second theater of operations for the militants beside Sinai. The latest such attack was last month, when authorities said 16 police officers were killed in what appeared to be an elaborate ambush. Security officials, however, said the number was as high as more than 50.
El-Sisi said subsequent operations by his security forces have killed the 14 militants he said participated in the attack. A “foreign” militant who also took part was captured alive, he said. He also suggested that the militants were planning to attack a desert Coptic Christian monastery. He did not elaborate, but added that joint army and police forces were actively combing the entire length of the country’s porous borders with Libya to the west and Sudan to the south.
A spate of attacks earlier this year that targeted Egypt’s minority Christians were blamed by authorities on militants based and trained in Libya. One attack hit Christians traveling on a quiet side road making their way to a remote desert monastery. El-Sisi said up to 20 vehicles loaded with weapons, ammunition and fighters have been destroyed in the past week, all in the vast western desert near the Libyan border.
El-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, he said. Three security sources said at the time that at least 52 police officers and conscripts were killed on Oct 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.