During a five day visit to New York, where he was participating in the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gave two public addresses, conducted interviews with AP, CNN, and PBS, and published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

The main theme of Sisi’s UNGA speech was a call for world leaders to unite, recognize the root causes of instability facing the MENA region, and find solutions to those problems. The following is a highlight of the topics and issues that Sisi discussed in his speech, in other high level meetings, and in interviews while in New York. 

Watch Sisi’s speech in English: 

Watch Sisi’s speech in Arabic:

Read the full transcript of Sisi’s speech here.

Countering Terrorism in the Region

A core part of Sisi’s speech focused on what he described, during his AP interview, as a “ferocious war” that Egypt and other regional actors are waging with terrorists. He discussed the threat of terrorism locally, regionally, and globally, calling on leaders to mobilize in opposition to the growing threat in an effort to stabilize the region. Sisi asked; “How many Muslims must fall victim to this abominable extremism and odious terrorism to convince the world that all of us, Muslims and non-Muslims alike are fighting the same enemy, facing the same threat?” He added that Egypt was the world’s “first line of defense” against this enemy.

Citing the role of youth in combating extremism, Sisi stressed the need to keep “them from drifting toward radical interpretations of Islam,” It was in this context that Sisi announced an intention to launch, with coordination with the UN and other member states, a youth-focused initiative called Hope and Action for a New Direction (HAND). The new initiative will seek to turn counterterrorism efforts away from purely “defensive reactions” to also include “proactive action,” forward-thinking efforts meant to “employ our youth’s capabilities in building the future that will soon be their own” to combat the monopolization, indoctrination, and spread of false interpretations of Islam by extremists.

Speaking about Egypt’s role in the international coalition taking part in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), Sisi said, “It has been very clear since the onset of the coalition that the Egyptian role is confined now in fighting terrorism in Sinai and on the borders with Libya that extends over 1,200 kilometers.” He further pointed to Egypt’s neighbors, saying, “The reality is, if we turned to Syria, Iraq or Libya, the situation would have been much more dangerous for the region and for Europe.”

Countering Terrorism at Home

Sisi addressed the local insurgency in Sinai during an interview with PBS, saying, “This is what terrorism is, and this is not a simple thing to confront,” adding that the United States has faced similar challenges. “If we can compare the security situation two years ago and today, we find a lot of improvement,” he said. “But the question is, will the flow of weapons and foreign fighters across the borders from Libya be stopped? This flow poses threats to us and a challenge to us,” he added.  

In the same interview, Sisi rejected the notion that the imprisoning of dissidents and a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood has worsened Egypt’s security situation and further radicalized the population. He said, “The crackdown on the insurgents and the terrorist members decreased the insurgent operations.”

US-Egypt Relations

Despite not meeting with President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the conference, Sisi spoke glowingly of US-Egypt relations. Asked if he trusted the United States as a reliable ally during his PBS interview, Sisi said, “Undoubtedly. It goes without saying. The United States has never let us down throughout the past years.” He added, “The last two years presented a real test of the endurance and strength of the US-Egyptian strategic relationship.” Speaking earlier with AP, he described US-Egypt ties as “strategic and stable,” adding that the relationship was “improving.”

Development and Economic Reforms

Sisi touched upon development issues several times in his speech, which began by highlighting Egypt’s successful opening of the New Suez Canal. He highlighted the government’s plan: “The Sustainable Development Strategy: Egypt’s Vision in 2030.” The initiative, he said, would build on international efforts toward development. According to State Information Service, the plan outlines Egypt’s efforts to tackle major issues over the next fifteen years, including corruption, economic development, human capital, and competitive markets.

Sisi stressed that development was a core issue that needed to be addressed on a global stage, especially in Africa and other developing countries. While in New York, Sisi personally praised the role of German companies in Egypt’s development during a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In the opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Sisi announced Egypt’s plans to shift to a value-added tax regime. He wrote, “The planned reform will move Egypt toward a value-added tax regime that will—alongside a simplified tax regime for small and medium-size enterprises—raise revenues and bolster investment incentives by boosting growth, creating jobs and improving firms’ cash flow.” Citing Egypt’s efforts to “overcome uncertainty and turmoil,” Sisi said the government’s objectives were to “ensure long-term sustainability by correcting the country’s previous fiscal imbalances—produced by a misallocation of funds, an unsustainable energy subsidy and poor revenue streams—to create a dynamic, competitive and private-sector-led platform for growth, and to restore confidence in the investment climate.” He described the plan as “nothing less than the re-engineering of Egypt’s entire economic apparatus.” Sisi cited progress made under his leadership including the Suez Canal Development Project, energy-subsidy reforms, and the introduction of investment laws.

Rights and Freedoms

During an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Sisi said that Egyptians enjoy “unprecedented freedom of expression.” He said, “No one in Egypt can bar anyone working in media or journalism or on TV from expressing their views.” He discussed similar issues, including Egypt’s protest law, during the PBS interview, saying, “We didn’t stop protests in Egypt, We only regulated the right of protesting in Egypt…Because we need stability.” He went on to add that the “dream of Tahrir” remains, and that no Egyptian president can lead without the will of the people.

Additionally, Sisi was asked about the pardoning of 100 prisoners that took place shortly before he left for New York. He responded saying, as soon as he was legally able, he “issue[d] a pardon, [he] didn’t hesitate.” In response to the fate of other political detainees that remain imprisoned, he stated that there is “no legal formality” by which he can intercede in those cases, and that they must proceed through normal court processes. In his AP interview, Sisi said he was unopposed to pardoning other journalists sentenced in absentia, adding that he must respect the judiciary and would act only within the powers granted him by the presidency.


During his UNGA speech, Sisi referred to the beheading of twenty Coptic Egyptians in Libya by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) as an example of concern over the stability of Libya and Egypt’s role in the situation. He stated, “Egypt’s great concern for Libya’s future, security, and stability were the main driving force behind our support for UN efforts to reach a peaceful settlement.” Pushing the significance of the Libyan Political Agreement, Sisi called for the international community to consolidate efforts in support of the agreement so Libya can rebuild and empower itself to effectively combat terrorism, which would increase regional stability.


Syria was a well traversed topic in Sisi’s UNGA speech, interviews and high-level meetings. His speech in particular touched upon how “Syria is being torn apart as it faces the threat of division, an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and the exposed ambitions of regional parties.” Sisi called upon Syrian national parties to meet in Cairo to develop a plan in accordance with Geneva – a plan that would provide a “common ground for all Syrians to build a democratic Syria” that can both provide support and sovereignty over the entire country.

During his PBS interview, Sisi stated that the current focus on a military-only solution toward ISIS is an incomplete strategy. He called instead for a “holistic approach” that would include security, economic, social, and cultural dimensions. He went on to add that Egypt supports a political, not military solution in Syria, and that the negotiations taking place between Assad’s regime and Syrian opposition groups are the correct path. He noted that Egypt seeks the preservation of the “integrity of the Syrian territory and to preserve the Syrian national army.”

Sisi echoed these sentiments in his AP interview, saying that a fractured Syria would risk all of Syria’s weapons and equipment falling into the hands “of the terrorists.” He said this would further exacerbate the security and stability challenges in the region. Speaking on CNN, Sisi said, “Bashar and the Syrian opposition, this is something that can be handled. It can be managed. But what cannot be handled and can really get out of hand will become very detrimental and devastating to the country is that whole country falls into the hands of these terrorist groups because this will have its direct detrimental impact on the security and stability of the whole region.” 


Sisi reaffirmed Egypt’s political and military support for Yemen, and the coalition of Arab states “supporting the legitimate government” in his speech. He also stressed Egypt’s responsibility to preserve Arab national security and Yemen’s “unity, independence and territorial integrity.” He urged the international community to resume the transitional political process in accordance with both the Gulf Initiative and relevant UN Security Council resolutions.


Sisi’s discussed Palestine numerous times during his five days in New York, including his discussion with Merkel. In his UNGA speech, Sisi brought up Palestine when referring to the “fundamental causes” of the deteriorating situation in the region. He cited recent clashes between Palestinians and Israelis at the al-Aqsa mosque and stated that resolving the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, empowering the Palestinian people, and allowing them to create an independent state based upon the June 4, 1967 borders would “…effectively eliminate of the most important factors contributing to the region’s instability and one of the most dangerous pretext used to justify extremism and terrorism.” Sisi also discussed the issue during his AP interview, adding that a resolution to the Palestinian question would “change the face of the region… [And] bring [an] enormous improvement to the situation.”  Presidential Spokesman Alaa Youssef, however, said that AP mistranslated Sisi’s statements on Egypt’s peace accord with Israel including more Arab states. Youssef said Sisi said, “This cannot be achieved without solving the Palestinian issue and declaring a Palestinian state on the borders of June 4, 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

Refugee Crisis

During his speech, Sisi highlighted the “increasing plight” of refugees in the region that are fleeing armed conflicts brought on, in a large part, by terrorism. He stressed the need for the creation of legal channels for immigration and an easing of transportation. He emphasized Egypt’s role in the crisis, saying, “Egypt hosts ever increasing numbers of refugees, who share with their Egyptian brothers and sisters, the same social, education and health services provided by the State, in spite of the economic burden this represents.”  

Sisi also discussed the refugee crisis with Merkel during a meeting at the UNGA, praising her country’s efforts to take in a large numbers of refugees.

Brandan Martini is an intern at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East