CAIRO — Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has shrugged off the killing of protesters by police and other human rights abuses, telling a German magazine that there is a "civilizational gap" between his country and Germany, where security forces and demonstrators are more "responsible."
Egypt has waged a sweeping crackdown on dissent since el-Sissi overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013, with hundreds of demonstrators killed in clashes with security forces and thousands jailed.
The police have come under renewed scrutiny following the shooting death of a female protester last month during the dispersal of a small, peaceful rally in downtown Cairo and a stampede outside a soccer stadium this week set off by police firing tear gas into a narrow, crowded corridor, which killed at least 22 people.
In the interview published on the English website of the German magazine Der Spiegel on Monday, el-Sissi said critics of Egypt's human rights record narrowly focus on freedom of expression, ignoring that millions of Egyptians want better education, jobs and shelter.
When the interviewers pointed to the mass killing of Morsi supporters during a crackdown on two Cairo sit-ins in 2013 , el-Sissi said if the police didn't move in to break up the gatherings, civilians would have done so, leading to "10 times" more deaths.
Rights groups say government forces used excessive force to break up the mass sit-ins, killing at least 620 people in one day. The government said the sit-ins disrupted public order and accused the protesters of stockpiling arms.
"I am not ashamed to admit that there is a civilizational gap between us and you," el-Sissi told the magazine.
"The police and people in Germany are civilized and have a sense of responsibility. German police are equipped with the latest capabilities and get the best training," he said. "And in your country, protesters would not use weapons in the middle of the demonstrations to target police."
He went on to blame the violence on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which he linked to radical Islamic groups.
El-Sissi also defended Egypt's judiciary in the face of criticism of mass death sentences for Islamists and the trial of journalists on terrorism-related charges.
On Wednesday, Egypt's highest appeals court overturned death sentences for 36 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government has labelled a terrorist group, and ordered a retrial. It's the second time in two months that the Court of Cassation reversed death sentences handed down to Islamists in mass trials condemned by rights groups and Western governments.
El-Sissi said he wishes to serve just one four-year term, and that Arab rulers should listen to their people.
"Even if only a million people demonstrate in the streets against a ruler, he should step down. But in our region, that hasn't yet registered in the consciousness of rulers."