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Sisi blames media and 'evil-doers' for Regeni murder fallout

During a wide-ranging speech, president hinted that media 'lies' had caused diplomatic rift with Italy over death of PhD student
President Sisi celebrates Red Sea islands deal with Saudi Arabia's King Salman (AFP)

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has warned of a "conspiracy" of "evil-doers" attempting to hold the Egyptian state responsible for the Cairo murder of Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni, and blamed social media users for spreading lies.

In a televised address on Wednesday, the Egyptian president promised to solve the case "because of exceptional relations with Italy, which supported us after 30 June," referring to the popular-backed coup that brought him to power in 2013.

Giulio Regeni's battered body was found in February several days after he went missing. Italy has withdrawn its ambassador and has complained about the Egyptian investigation into the student's death. 

Egyptian security forces shot dead several members of a "gang" it claimed had abducted and killed Regeni, and said his backpack was retrieved from their hideout.

Sisi on Wednesday warned Egyptian media that they were “part of the equation to protect Egypt,” and must not use social media as sources for their stories on the case.

“I’ve told you before - there are evil-doers among us who are accusing us [of responsibility]. Don’t use social media as a source.”

He stressed the difficulty of “balancing security and human rights” and suggested freedom of expression, which he said was a basic principle of the Egyptian state, was behind the current diplomatic problems with Italy.

“We as Egyptians are the ones that created the problem of Regeni’s killing for ourselves,” he said, adding that authorities had allowed “lies and allegations” relating to the student’s death to circulate in the media.

Red Sea islands

In another part of his speech, Sisi responded to criticism of Egypt's decision to hand control of two key islands over to Saudi Arabia by denying they had ever belonged to Egypt.

“We did not waive our rights – we gave Saudi Arabia its right to Tiran and Sanafir," he said.

“There were security and political reasons” for the deal, he told delegates during the address at the Ittihadiya Palace in Cairo.

Sisi and his cabinet have faced a storm of criticism since Sunday, when the islands deal was announced.

Many opponents of the government, as well as some state-run media outlets, have reacted angrily to the announcement, with some accusing Sisi of “selling” Egyptian territory to the Gulf kingdom.

The president said the public reaction had made him happy because it showed that Egyptians “love their land” but warned of a “conspiracy” seeking to question the integrity of Egypt’s leaders.

“The public reaction to the problem of the islands is weakening the position of Egypt. I hope we won’t bring up this issue again – you have a parliament that will discuss this.”

Sisi also stressed the need for unity, saying that “the Egyptian army represents all Egyptians and not just one sect”.

“I am not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or a Salafist – I am just a Muslim,” said Sisi, who came to power following a coup against the democratically elected Brotherhood-backed government in 2013, and its president Mohamed Morsi.