Egypt’s president has said his country’s 2011 Arab uprising was an ill-advised attempt at change whose chaotic aftermath posed an existential threat to the nation.
Addressing an international youth conference late on Sunday, Abdel Fattah El Sissi said those behind the revolt had good intentions but had inadvertently “opened the gates of hell”.
President El Sissi had until recently only hinted at his disapproval of the uprising that ended the 29-year rule of autocrat Hosni Mubarak. In his first outright criticism of the uprising, he said last month it was the “wrong remedy that followed a wrong diagnosis.”
But his comments at the youth forum provided his most detailed assessment of the uprising, which pro-government media routinely demonize as a foreign conspiracy to destroy the country.
The 2011 uprising was led by young, pro-democracy activists, and paved the way for Egypt’s first free and fair elections, which were won by the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group whose stalwart Mohammed Morsi was elected president in 2012. His rule proved divisive, and in 2013, President El Sisi as defence minister led the military overthrow of Morsi amid mass protests.
Since then, the government has waged an unprecedented crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of Islamists along with some of the most prominent activists behind the 2011 uprising. Authorities have rolled back all the freedoms gained through the uprising, banning unauthorized protests and silencing most independent media. President El Sisi was re-elected earlier this year in a vote in which all potentially viable opponents were either jailed or withdrew under pressure.
He has defended his actions by saying they spared Egypt the fate of Syria, Yemen and Libya, where Arab Spring uprisings led to civil war.