Friday, November 10, 2017

Egypt's president warns Iran to stop 'meddling' in Middle East - Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff

by Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff 

Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi says he opposes military strikes on Iran or Hezbollah as there is "enough turmoil in the Middle East" and "dialogue can resolve the region's crises"


Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi  
Photo: AP

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said on Wednesday that Iran must stop "meddling" in the Middle East and the security of Arab Gulf countries must not be threatened, but he underscored that he was against military strikes on Iran or Hezbollah, as there was "enough turmoil in the Middle East," saying he believes "dialogue can resolve the region's crises".

In a meeting with a group of journalists, el-Sissi 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," el-Sissi 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," the Egyptian president said.

El-Sissi 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.

He stressed his backing of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states, which have showered Egypt with aid ever since the general-turned-president led the military's ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 following mass protests.

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

El-Sissi was elected a year after he ousted Morsi, and his first four-year 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 el-Sissi. Rights lawyer Khaled Ali announced his 2018 bid on Monday in a speech criticizing his 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 program is expected to help restore confidence.

The IMF program 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 from 8.8 to the dollar to almost 18. El-Sissi said on Wednesday 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 up a plane mid-air that had taken off from Sharm al-Sheikh, the Red Sea resort in which el-Sissi was speaking on Wednesday, killing all 224 people, mostly Russians, on board.

El-Sissi 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 terrorism.

When asked about his support for Khalifa Haftar, the eastern Libyan commander whose Libyan National Army has been fighting Islamist militant groups and other fighters in Benghazi and Derna for more than two years, el-Sissi said it did not mean he opposed the U.N.-backed Tripoli-based government, even though Haftar and his supporters reject it.

"Our support for Haftar is in line with the constants of Egyptian policy; we support a political solution and our backing of Haftar is not at the expense of Fayez Seraj's government."

Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff


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