President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi hailed Egypt’s relations with European Union states, adding that his planned visit to France and Italy is part of his efforts to restore Egypt’s world standing.
Speaking to France 24 TV channel before his first visit to Europe, Al-Sisi discussed the situation in Egypt and the region.
He said military cooperation with France dates back many years, citing Egypt’s stock of French aircrafts such as Mirage 5 and Mirage 2000. He added that Cairo was keen on maintaining this cooperation.
Al-Sisi noted that any future deals between the two countries would depend on what France is willing to provide given the current circumstances, and the French understanding of Egypt’s security needs given the economic situation and the facilities available.
On the ongoing fight against terrorism in Sinai and Egypt’s role in the international anti-Islamic State coalition, Al-Sisi said Egypt had been combating terrorism in Sinai for over a year, and asserted that the country is already part of the coalition.
Al-Sisi added that Egypt had been combating domestic terrorism in Sinai, along with the western and southern borders, even before joining the anti-Islamic State coalition.
He also noted that military action was not enough to fight terrorism but had to be coupled with comprehensive economic, cultural, social, security, and political measures.
He said a resident-free buffer zone in Sinai should have been set up years ago and would have had a great impact on security in the area.
“The measure is now being implemented in cooperation with Sinai residents for national security needs”, he added.
Turning to Libya, Al-Sisi said in the event that Egypt intervenes directly in Libya, Cairo will not hesitate to announce its involvement to the world, adding that Egypt had been helping the Libyan national army and parliament through the Libyan government.
Al-Sisi strongly denied the presence of Egyptian military jets or any other air and ground forces in Libya, stating Egypt protects its borders “from within”.
The president also said that Libya needs more than military intervention, asserting that NATO’s work in Libya was not completed after the regime was toppled, because state institutions were not rebuilt.
“As soon as the regime was brought down, NATO forces left Libya to its fate against militias and weapons,” he said.
Joint efforts are needed to prevent Libya from becoming a terrorism attraction point in the Mediterranean Basin, he added.
The time factor is important, Al-Sisi noted, stressing that extremism should be handled as a single bloc not just in Iraq and Syria but in Libya as well.
When asked by France 24 about Egypt’s readiness to normalise ties with Qatar, Al-Sisi said, “Let’s wait and see the outcome of the Riyadh agreement on Qatar.”
Al-Sisi declared that since 30 June last year, Egypt did not take escalated measures against any country, referring to Turkey’s provocative stance in the aftermath of the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
As for US Apache helicopters, Al-Sisi stressed the country’s need for modern military equipment as its borders extend over 1,200 km with Libya and 1,000 km with Sudan in addition to the borders with the Gaza Strip and Israel. He added that 10 Apache helicopters should have been delivered to Egypt over a year ago, in addition to 12 F-16 jets.
Turning to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the president said he told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Palestinians “should be given hope” and a state to live peacefully side by side with the Israeli people.
When asked whether Hamas has links with the terrorist groups of Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis and the Islamic State, Al-Sisi said fanatic thoughts and so-called political Islam “have one background”. As for the Muslim Brotherhood, he said the state’s handling of it “is a reaction, not action”.
No extraordinary measures have been taken since 3 July last year and the MB had a chance to re-merge into the political process however, the group decided to resort to violence instead.
On the topic of human rights and the possibility of deporting detained Al-Jazeera journalists back to their countries, Al-Sisi said if he was in power at the time he would have found it more appropriate for Egypt’s national security to deport them “and close the case for good”.
Al-Sisi said that pardoning the Al-Jazeera journalists is in consideration, “If it is in the best interests of national security, it will be done.”