Joint press conference with President Sisi of Egypt
Good afternoon. I’m delighted to welcome President Sisi to Downing Street today on his first visit here as President. We’ve had good discussions on a range of issues, and Egypt is a vital partner for us both in terms of our economic and our security ties.
We’re proud to be the largest foreign investor in Egypt, and we want to help support growth and development in Egypt. We’ve spoken about the need for political progress in Egypt as the essential foundation for Egypt’s long‑term stability. We’ve also spoken about a range of foreign policy issues including ISIL, Syria and migration.
We will continue our close security cooperation, including on tackling the scourge of violent Islamist extremism. And on Libya, where we need to see an inclusive political settlement as a crucial first step to reducing terrorism and tackling illegal migration. We’ve discussed the Russian plane crash and the situation in Sharm. We’re working intensively together in the spirit of close co‑operation, and I’m immensely grateful for all the efforts the Egyptian authorities have made so far.
We’re committed to working together in the short term to meet all concerns about the security of the airport in order to enhance the safety of departing passengers. We’re also committed to working together to restore normal flights in both directions as soon as possible. British holidaymakers want to go to Sharm, and Egyptians want to welcome them there. Almost a million British holidaymakers enjoy Sharm el‑Sheikh every year, and we recognise the importance of their visits to Egypt. And it’s in our mutual interest to address this and to get back to normal as soon as possible. Mr President, thank you.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi
Thank you Mr Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen. In the beginning I would like to express thanks and appreciation to His Excellency Prime Minister, for the positive atmosphere of this visit.
As well as the hospitality and the welcome we have received from Britain. I’m delighted to visit your friendly country. I have a number of dignitaries who’ve voiced their interest in making this visit that I’m making to Britain a success. I’m confident our bilateral co‑operation proves mutually beneficial.
My visit to the UK clearly reflects the strong relations between the two countries and peoples. I think you agree with me that our close co‑operation in the various fields lays the sound foundation for more rigorous dynamics politically and economically, as well as trade and investment partnership at a wider scale.
Your Excellency, in Egypt we are racing against time to build a modern civil society, proud of its values and cultural legacy. A society that can provide a dignified life and answer the people’s demands of freedom, security, stability and social justice.
Accordingly, we look to the ties of friendship and co‑operation between our two countries with appreciation and trust. And we trust that the future will bring what is better for all of us.
It is important in this regard to stress that the world needs now more than ever to unify peoples and cultures against the ideas and rhetoric of bigotry, extremism, hate and denial of the other; being the ingredients of a fertile soil of terrorism, detrimental as it is to the pillars and values of societies.
Your Excellency, one more time let me on behalf of the Egyptian delegation express our pleasure to visit your friendly country.
I thank you for the hospitality and for the positive atmosphere. I look forward to the outcome of our talks, and I’m quite confident that it will bring about all of the concord and agreement that we have in our views during our talks. Whether at the bilateral or the regional levels. No doubt we have come out from these talks with better understanding, and deeper awareness of our respective stands and views. And on our perspectives on the various issues, as well as probing ways to give more means to solve these. And grant more momentum to the Egyptian–British relations, since we have arrived in your country.
There’s a good sense of a clear political will to enhance and upgrade our relations. I hope that we will contribute together to meeting the aspirations of our peoples. Thank you, Your Excellency.
Thank you very much, Mr President. We’ve got two questions.
No other country has taken the decision we have to suspend flights. Why is UK intelligence so sure that there was an explosive device on board this plane, when even the Russians – whose plane this was – have not said that? Do we have some intelligence they do not have, or do you think the Russians are withholding some information?
And a question please to Mr President: you have reason today to be unhappy with the British response. Firstly, you were not informed of the decision to suspend flights, and secondly the UK now appears to be suggesting that Egypt cannot run a secure airport in Sharm el-Sheikh. And as I understand it, it is an airport that you think is very secure.
Allow me to answer the question – the part of the question that was addressed to me. I just want to say that ten months ago we were asked by our British friends to send teams to Sharm el-Sheikh airport, to make sure that all the security procedures there are well enough, and provide the adequate safety and security for the passengers. And we understood their concern, because they are really interested in the safety and security of their nationals going to places, to tourist attractions in Egypt and other places in the world. We have received the teams, we have co‑operated with them. And they checked the security actions; they were happy with that, and we are still ready to co‑operate on this particular area. Not necessarily on one airport but with all the airports. This is – we understand the importance of this.
And even after the crash of the Russian aeroplane, there was a telephone call with His Excellency, the Prime Minister, and we agreed on more co‑ordination on checking the procedures taken. And I showed complete understanding of His Excellency’s concern about the safety and security of his people. We responded immediately to the demands, we received the team to Sharm el‑Sheikh airport, and I say here that we are completely ready to co‑operate with all our friends to make sure that the security measures taken at our airport provide the safety and security needed for the people who come to us.
As a matter of fact, I have found complete understanding and appreciation of the effort – the Egyptian efforts from His Excellency the Prime Minister, and how we are aligning and co‑ordinating our measures together. This is a good mutual understanding.
And we also talked about the actions needed to make sure that this will not have any negative ramifications on the future of tourism in Egypt, and that in the soonest time possible we restore the movement of tourists, of British tourists, to Egypt. Those who come to Egypt to enjoy their time; those who we are very happy to receive in our country.
Thank you Mr President. I completely agree with what the President has just said. We’ve had some excellent discussions today; not only about what Egypt has done in the past to increase its own security and the security of tourists, but also the further steps that can be taken today that will help to make sure that our British citizens can return home after their holidays in Sharm.
To answer your questions very directly; you asked whether we’re the only country taking action. Actually the United States have changed their travel advice, and there are some other European countries taking some similar action to what we’ve done. But my role is to act in the right way to keep British citizens safe and secure, and to put their security first. I act on the basis of intelligence that I receive, I act on the basis of advice that I get. Of course I cannot be sure, my experts cannot be sure that it was a terrorist bomb that brought down that Russian plane. But if the intelligence and the judgement are that that is a more likely than not outcome, then I think it’s right to act in the way that I did.
Now, I understand that it is obviously concerning for those people who are in Sharm el‑Sheikh who ought to be home by now, and they want to come home. And of course I feel deeply for those people who were looking forward to a good holiday, who would have flown off today into the sunshine, who won’t be doing that; who’ve had their holidays cancelled. And of course I have great concern for our friends and partners in Egypt who want to have a strong tourism industry, and who welcome a million British people every year. But the most important thing of all is that those people in Sharm el‑Sheikh can come home safely, and that’s why the extra measures need to be taken today.
So I think we’ve done the right thing. We’ve had very good discussions today, and I’m sure we’ll be able to bring those British holidaymakers home soon because of the level of co‑operation between our two governments. And more than that, I’m sure that we’ll be able, over time, to take the necessary action so we can restore the holidaymaking route from Britain to Sharm el‑Sheikh and vice versa.
So I’m convinced that we’ll be able to do that. But as I say, my job is to act on the basis of the intelligence, making the judgment that if it is the case – we can’t be sure, but if it is the case that it’s more likely than not a terrorist bomb on that plane, then my job is to take the right action.
Please, next question.
Many people in the Middle East consider that the British policy is responsible for creating ISIS: once by the military intervention in Iraq and Libya that paved the way for this fanatical and terroristic group to prevail, and once by harbouring the leaders and advocates of Islamic extremism. Don’t you think that there is a need to reconsider your stand, and to review your policy concerning terrorists and fanatical groups without any exception, including the Muslim Brotherhood which is the mother of all terroristic groups? Thank you.
Well first of all, I think those people who say that the problem with Islamic extremism, and the problem of Islamist extremist violence, was caused either by Iraq or by action in Libya or elsewhere; the fundamental problem they have to confront is this: that one of the biggest acts of Islamist extremist violent terrorism was of course the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, which preceded those events. In the case of Iraq by two years; in the case of Libya by many more years.
That came first, and I would argue that the problem of extremist Islamism and violence has been a growing problem, and it’s a problem which is effectively a battle that’s taking place within Islam. I know, and you know, that Islam is a religion of peace; a religion followed by millions in our world as a guide to their life and a source of faith, and a source of strength. But there is a minority of a minority, as it were, that have taken the tenets of this religion and poisoned them, and turned them into a perverse narrative that justifies suicide bombs and killing and maiming, and all the things that IS are doing – so‑called IS are doing in Syria and Iraq. And indeed, that Islamist extremist terrorists are doing in other countries of the world.
And it’s this narrative of Islamist extremism that we should be trying to combat, rather than thinking that it was caused in some way by the actions of others. As I say: the Twin Towers, the actions of Al-Qaeda; that happened many years before the events you were referring to.
As for the Muslim Brotherhood, what we do in Britain is we judge people by whether they are inside the law or outside the law. And if people are fomenting violence then they are breaking the law, and the law should come down on them. And in terms of our review into the Muslim Brotherhood, which we discussed today, that will be published later this year. And I think you’ll see – as you’re already seeing in Britain – a much more robust approach against extremism. Against extremism of all kinds, and against those extremists that stop just short of endorsing violence, but nonetheless those extremists whose worldview encourages people to pursue a path of violence, and that is very much our approach here in the UK.
Thank you very much.