'Freedom of speech, democracy' destroying Egypt, says top lawmaker
Freedom of speech and democracy are fronts used by dissidents to destroy the state, Egypt's speaker of parliament has said in the latest attack against the country's already crippled media.
Ali Abdel Aal made the comments on Sunday during a session at parliament, local news website Parlamany reported.
"Some journalists hide behind democracy and freedom of speech to publish material aimed at toppling the state," Abdel Aal said.
"In law school, I studied legal ways to destroy states under the guise of freedom and democracy. The destruction of the state is currently happening," he added.
The top lawmaker called on parliament to finalise a law on media affairs so that dissenters could face prosecution as soon as possible.
The comments come amid a growing crackdown on opposition voices ahead of next month's presidential election.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is virtually certain to win the March vote, with his only challenger an obscure politician and one of his most ardent supporters.
Ahead of the election, all potential presidential contenders have either been jailed or have thrown in the towel, claiming the entire process was rigged.
Sisi silenced all forms of political opposition during his first four-year term.
Since Sisi came to power in 2013 after ousting the North African country's first freely elected leader, authorities crushed all his Islamist and liberal opponents and sent thousands of them to prison.
The general-turned-president has claimed that there are no political prisoners the country and said Western concepts of human rights are not applicable to Egypt.
On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch and more than a dozen other rights groups said the presidential poll next month will be "neither free nor fair".
"Sisi has relentlessly stifled basic freedoms and arrested potential candidates and rounded up their supporters," the groups said in a joint statement.