CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's president paid tribute on Sunday to the country's 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak, saying that protesters killed during the 18-day revolt had sought to revive "noble principles" and found a "new Egypt."
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's praise of the uprising, delivered via a televised speech on the eve of its fifth anniversary, followed a recent spate of arrests and a heightened security presence in the capital Cairo that reflected his government's resolve that the occasion will not be marked by popular demonstrations— or militant attacks.
They also came just one day after el-Sissi, a soldier-turned-politician who won office in 2014 following a landslide election victory, praised the country's police and vowed a firm response to any threat to the country's stability. His nod to the police ran against growing complaints by rights activists that the force has returned to Mubarak-era practices like torture, random arrests and, more recently, forced disappearances. Police brutality was among the complaints that drove Egyptians to take part in the 2011 uprising.
El-Sissi said the 2011 uprising had deviated from its course and was forcibly hijacked for "personal gains and narrow interests." That was a thinly veiled reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned and declared a terror group after el-Sissi, as military chief, led the ouster in July 2013 of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood.
The "June 30 revolution" — a reference to the day in 2013 when millions of Egyptians demonstrated on the streets against the rule of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood — corrected the course of the 2011 uprising, el-Sissi said.
That revolution, he said, took place to "restore the free will of Egyptians and continue to realize their legitimate aspirations and deserved ambitions."
"Egypt today is not the Egypt of yesterday. We are building together a modern, developed and civilian state that upholds the values of democracy and freedom," he said of the 2 ½ years since the removal of Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president.
"Democratic experiences don't mature overnight, but rather through a continuing and accumulative process," he said, before emphasizing the need to exercise "responsible freedom" to avoid "destructive chaos." The rhetoric, and insistence that gradual democratization is key to stability, mirrored that of Mubarak during his 29-year authoritarian rule.
El-Sissi has since 2013 presided over what the human rights group Amnesty International describes as an "unprecedented" crackdown on dissenters. Thousands of Brotherhood supporters, as well as scores of liberal, pro-democracy activists have been detained.
In the recent days, security forces have questioned residents and searched over 5000 apartments in Cairo's downtown, an area whose cafes, theatres and art galleries have been popular with young, pro-democracy activists. Administrators of Facebook pages organizing protests have also been detained.
El-Sissi's supporters, including several high-profile TV presenters and talk show hosts, have often justified actions by the police and security agencies as necessary to spare Egypt the chaos and bloodshed roiling regional neighbors like Libya, Syria and Iraq.