Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Friday hailed the “historic” normalisation deal between Israel and Bahrain.
“I hail this important step aimed at consolidating stability and peace in the Middle East, which will achieve a just and permanent solution to the Palestinian cause,” Sisi said in a tweet.
Sisi also thanked “all those who helped achieve this historic step”. Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace deal with Israel in 1979, followed by Jordan in 1994, while the UAE announced it was normalising ties with the Jewish state on August 13.
Egypt lowered fuel prices on Friday, the oil ministry said, following several rounds of price hikes as part of an austerity programme that have triggered discontent.
The move comes a week after rare protests broke out in Cairo and other cities across Egypt calling for the removal of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The country’s pricing committee “decided to lower the prices of the three types of gasoline products on the domestic market by 25 piastres (0.015 US cents) a litre”, the ministry said in a statement Thursday.
The price of 80-octane gas was cut to 6.5 Egyptian pounds, 92-octane to 7.75 pounds and 95-octane was lowered to 8.75 pounds.
The decision comes “in light of the decline in the price of Brent crude oil in the international market between July and September … and the depreciation of the dollar against the (Egyptian) pound,” it said.
Egypt has raised fuel prices several times as part of subsidy cuts under ambitious but tough economic reforms since general-turned-president Sisi took office in 2014.
The austerity policies, including subsidy cuts on essentials such as fuel as well as the devaluation of the local currency, are tied to a $12-billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund.
Egypt received the final tranche of the three-year IMF loan in August.
Since Egypt’s agreement with the IMF in 2016, living costs have soared, hitting poor and middle-class Egyptians.
Sisi regularly calls on Egyptians to endure the economic hardship promising future prosperity.
Last month’s protests broke out in defiance of a ban on demonstrations after an exiled Egyptian businessman accused Sisi and the military of rampant corruption.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has ratified a law granting authorities the right to monitor social media users in the country as part of tightening internet controls, the official gazette said on Saturday.
Approved by parliament in July, the state’s Supreme Council for Media Regulations will have the power to place people with more than 5,000 followers — on social media or with a personal blog or website — under supervision.
The council will be authorised to suspend or block any personal account which “publishes or broadcasts fake news or anything (information) inciting violating the law, violence or hatred”.
The new law is one of a series of measures that rights groups say are aimed at curbing freedom of expression online, with the internet one of the last forums for public debate over Sisi’s rule.
In August, the president signed off on another piece of legislation allowing authorities, through a judge, to order the blocking of websites that “constitute a threat” to Egypt’s national security or economy.
Those who administer or visit such websites, intentionally or “in error without a valid reason”, can now face jail time and fines.
The authorities have insisted that such measures are needed to help tackle instability and terrorism in the country.
But domestic and international rights activists regularly accuse the government of seeking to crush dissent by arresting critics and bloggers and blocking news sites.
More than 500 websites have already been blocked in Egypt prior to the new law, according to the Cairo-based Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression.
Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah has told Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi he is well on the road to recovery following a shoulder injury in the Champions League final.
“The president was reassured on the health condition of the player ‘Mohamed Salah’, who affirmed that his condition is improving notably and that he is on his way to recovery, god willing,” presidency spokesman Bassam Radi said on Saturday.
Salah, who hit a stunning 44 goals for Liverpool last season in all competitions, was forced out of the May 26 Champions League final in tears clutching his left shoulder after being wrestled to the ground by Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos.
Salah has undergone treatment in Valencia, Spain, in the hope of playing a role in Egypt’s first appearance in the World Cup since 1990.
He was included in the Egyptian squad announced on Monday.
The Pharaohs will carry out their final training session in Egypt on Saturday night in Cairo before they travel to Russia on Sunday.
On May 30, the federation had said Salah would be out for “not more” than three weeks, meaning he could miss Egypt’s opening World Cup Group A fixture against Uruguay on June 15.
Egypt will then face Russia on June 19 and Saudi Arabia on June 25.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has been re-elected for a second term with about 92 percent of the vote, preliminary results showed on Thursday, with just over 40 percent of voters casting ballots.
Twenty-five million of the 60 million registered voters, or some 41.5 percent, turned out during the three days of polling that ended Wednesday, state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram reported. Twenty-three million voted for Sisi.
The Akhbar el-Youm newspaper did not report the full turnout but said Sisi won 21.4 million votes, and his rival Moussa Mostafa Moussa 721,000 votes, without mentioning the number of spoiled ballots.
According to Al-Ahram, in addition to 23 million who cast valid votes, two million spoiled their ballot papers.
Sisi’s sole challenger was the little-known Moussa, himself a supporter of the president, who registered immediately before the close date for applications, saving the election from being a one-horse race.
Moussa conceded his loss on Wednesday night, telling a television station he had hoped for 10 percent of the vote.
“But I know the immense popularity of President Sisi,” he said.
Other, more heavy-weight would-be challengers were all sidelined, detained or pulled out.
Sisi, who as army chief ousted Egypt’s first freely elected president — Islamist Mohamed Morsi — after mass street protests in 2013, won his first term in 2014 with 96.9 percent of the vote.
Turnout down on 2014
The turnout of 47 percent in that year’s election was sharply higher than this year’s 40 percent despite appeals from Prime Minister Sherif Ismail for voters to fulfil their patriotic duty.
Boycotters who cannot show good reason for not going to the polls could a face a fine of up to 500 Egyptian pounds (22 euros), the electoral commission has warned.
At a news conference, election commission official, Mahmud al-Sherif, said there had been no violations of Egypt’s election law.
Opposition groups had called for a boycott of this week’s vote which they labelled a facade.
There were no presidential debates and Sisi himself did not appear at any official campaign events, although he spoke at a number of ceremonies.
In an interview days ahead of the vote, Sisi said he had wished there were more candidates, denying any role in sidelining them.
At a speech before the vote he also called for a high turnout.
“I need you because the journey is not over,” Sisi told a mostly female audience. “I need every lady and mother and sister, please, I need the entire world to see us in the street” voting.
Morsi’s removal had ushered in a deadly crackdown that killed and jailed hundreds of Islamists.
The initial crackdown on Morsi’s supporters expanded to include liberal and leftist secular activists
A jihadist insurgency since has killed hundreds of policemen and civilians.
Sisi gave the armed forces and police a three-month deadline in November to wipe out the Islamic State group in its Sinai Peninsula stronghold.
The deadline has since been extended, and on February 9 the armed forces launched their most comprehensive campaign yet to end the five-year-old jihadist insurgency.
But attacks by the jihadists have continued.
On Saturday, two policemen were killed in a car bomb targeting the provincial head of security for the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. The security chief was unharmed.
Egyptian cities, especially Cairo, have been flooded with banners showing Sisi and messages of support from business owners. Posters vowing support for Moussa, 65, are rarely seen.
While still popular, Sisi has embarked on tough economic reforms that have been welcomed by foreign investors but dented his popularity at home.
Egyptians will choose their next president in elections starting Monday, with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi expected to easily secure a second four-year term.
Some 60 million people in Egypt, the most populated Arab country, are registered to vote in three days of polling on March 26, 27, and 28.
They will have the choice between the incumbent and one other candidate: Moussa Mostafa Moussa, a little-known politician who registered right before the close date for applications, saving the election from being a one-horse race.
“Moussa Mostafa Moussa has little chance of winning a significant number of votes. His campaign is weak, many people do not even know he is running, and he is generally little known,” said Mostafa Kamel al-Sayed, a political science professor at Cairo University.
In an interview broadcast on Egyptian television this week, 63-year-old Sisi said the absence of serious opponents is not his doing.
“I wish we had one, or two, or three, or 10 of the best people and you choose however you want,” said Sisi.
– ‘Result known in advance’ –
In the 2014 election, Sisi faced Hamdeen Sabbahi, an established left-wing politician much better known than Moussa. Still, Sisi won 96.9 percent of the vote.
With Sisi’s win effectively guaranteed, the authorities’ concern this year would be turn out to enhance the legitimacy of the vote. Sisi has stressed in his pre-election appearances the importance of voters turning out in large numbers.
In 2014, about 37 percent of voters participated in the two-day election, prompting authorities to add a third day to obtain a final participation rate of 47.5 percent.
It is unlikely this year that even that 37 percent will be achieved, said Sayed.
“The result is known in advance, and this does not encourage Egyptians to go out and vote,” he said.
“And there is no campaigning: The voters are not exposed to and getting familiar with the candidates’ ideas.”
During the campaign, Sisi appeared frequently on television and in newspapers, hailing factories and infrastructure projects built over the last four years.
Egyptian cities, especially Cairo, are flooded with banners featuring photographs of Sisi and messages of support from business owners. Posters vowing support for Moussa, 65, are rarely seen.
Many of the pro-Sisi banners carry praise for the relative calm of recent years, following the turmoil unleashed in the wake of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.
But with an economic crisis and gruelling price hikes — and the return of a regime seen as at least as authoritative as that of Mubarak — support for Sisi appears to be slightly in decline.
In his first term, Sisi had promised to restore stability, including in the economy.
In 2016, he launched a three-year economic reform programme, part of a $12 billion International Monetary Fund loan, which included the floating of the pound, leading to a loss of half of its value and causing prices to soar.
– Crackdown on dissent –
But even as inflation spiked, no public displays of protest were witnessed under Sisi, who has led a wide crackdown on dissent since taking office.
Sisi, the fifth president to hail from the military since the monarchy was overthrown in 1952, was elected president a year after leading the military ouster of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, amid mass protests against him.
Morsi, who hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood, became Egypt’s first democratically elected president in 2012, in the first vote after Mubarak’s ouster.
But after a year of divisive rule, with many Egyptians concerned about rising Islamist leanings in government, mass protests took place against him across the country, and Sisi, then head of the army, announced his ouster after an ultimatum for Morsi to call early elections.
Hundreds of Morsi’s supporters were killed in the August 2013 dispersal of two protest camps in Cairo, and thousands were arrested — including Morsi himself — and sent to mass trial in procedures condemned by the United Nations.
A year later, a popular Sisi was elected as president, with the initial crackdown on Morsi’s supporters expanded to include liberal and leftist secular activists.
According to Reporters Without Borders, 30 journalists are currently imprisoned in Egypt. Nearly 500 websites are also blocked, while art is subject to rising censorship.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday declined to publicly criticise the rights record of his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, saying he was in not in the business of giving “lessons”.
“We do not give lessons without taking account of the context,” Macron said at a press conference with Sisi in Paris, voicing support for Egypt’s “fight against violent religious fundamentalism”.
France sees Sisi, a former general who ousted the elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, as a key ally in the fight against terrorism and a source of stability in the war-wracked Middle East.
Macron told the press conference that combating extremism “should be carried out with the respect of the rule of law and human rights” and his aides said he raised cases of arrested activists in private during the two-hour talks.
The two countries marked Sisi’s visit to Paris with the signature of several agreements on transport, energy and cultural cooperation.
But neither Macron nor Sisi could escape questions over Egypt’s record of abuses and repression.
Asked by a French reporter about allegations that an Italian researcher found murdered in Egypt in 2016 died at the hands of the police, Sisi said emphatically: “We do not practise torture.”
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to Paris on Tuesday under pressure from human rights groups to end what they call France’s “disgraceful policies of indulgence” towards him.
Sisi, a former general who ousted the elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, will meet the French defence and foreign ministers as well as business groups during his two-day trip that starts on Monday.
Macron, a 39-year-old centrist elected in May, is pushing a pragmatic, results-oriented foreign policy but also one that sees France uphold its historic mission of defending human rights.
The visit will be a test of this balancing act because Egypt is a major buyer of French arms and a crucial partner in the war-wracked Middle East but Sisi is accused of systematic abuses and repression.
“President Macron should refuse to continue France’s disgraceful policies of indulgence toward al-Sisi’s repressive government,” the head of Human Rights Watch in France, Benedicte Jeannerod, said in a statement on Monday.
The New York-based group said France should “stop ignoring serious abuses” and pressure Sisi by making future economic cooperation and military support conditional on improvements in human rights.
At a press conference of various rights groups on Monday in Paris, Amnesty International also urged Macron to speak out about human rights.
“The silence of foreign governments sends a message to the Egyptian authorities that they can continue,” said Hussein Baoumi, Egypt expert at Amnesty International.
– Discreet diplomacy? –
A statement from Macron’s office last week said the talks would focus on security and regional stability “but also the human rights situation to which France is particularly attentive”.
In one of his first meetings as president, Macron welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin in May and surprised some observers by speaking out against Russian state propaganda and raising alleged abuses in Chechnya.
But government sources told AFP behind-the-scenes diplomacy would be favoured over any public confrontation with Sisi.
“If we arrive saying ‘what you’re doing is wrong’, it’s not effective. What works is bringing up specific cases. We need to be stubborn but discreet,” one diplomat told AFP.
Egypt is a major buyer of French military equipment with orders worth more than 5.0 billion euros (5.8 billion dollars) since 2015 including for 24 Rafale fighter jets.
Those deals were negotiated by former defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian who is now foreign minister in Macron’s government.
Rights groups have repeatedly accused former army chief Sisi of repressive policies that stifle dissent in the media and politics, as well as the use of torture by security forces.
“It’s important that he raises it publicly,” Mohamed Zarea, vice-president of the FIDH global association of human rights groups, told reporters on Monday as he sounded the alarm about Egyptian NGOs being strangled.
But the most populous country in the Middle East is viewed as a vital partner by Western countries which fear more instability in the war-ravaged region.
US President Donald Trump in April congratulated Sisi on a “fantastic job” during a meeting at the White House. The previous month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel travelled to Cairo to hold talks with the Egyptian leader on stemming migration to Europe.
Sisi’s visit to France come as Egypt continues to battle extremist groups that stepped up their attacks after Morsi’s ouster.
Sixteen policemen were killed in a shootout with militants on a road 200 kilometres (125 miles) southwest of Cairo at the weekend.
Le Drian sent his condolences and pledged solidarity in “the fight against terrorism”.
Pope Francis was greeted by Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail upon his arrival at Cairo airport on Friday, as the pontiff began a two-day visit in which he hopes to mend ties with Islamic religious leaders just as Egypt’s ancient Christian community faces unprecedented pressure from Islamic State militants who have threatened to wipe it out.
Francis will meet President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar – the world’s most influential seat of Sunni Islamic theology and learning, and Pope Tawadros II – head of the Coptic Orthodox Church who narrowly escaped a church bombing in Alexandria on Palm Sunday.
Francis is expected to give his key address to a conference on religious dialogue at Al-Azhar, part of efforts to improve relations with the 1,000-year-old centre after Egyptian Muslim leaders cut ties in 2011 over what they said were repeated insults against Islam by Pope Benedict.
Ties were restored last year after Tayeb visited the Vatican.
Tayeb, widely considered among the most moderate clerics in Egypt, has condemned Islamic State and its practice of declaring others as apostates and infidels as a pretext for waging violent jihad.