CAIRO – Egypt's president has said his country's 2011 Arab Spring revolt was an ill-advised attempt at change whose chaotic aftermath posed an existential threat to the nation.
Addressing an international youth conference late Sunday, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said those behind the revolt had good intentions but had inadvertently "opened the gates of hell."
El-Sissi had until recently only hinted at his disapproval of the uprising that ended the 29-year rule of autocrat Hosni Mubarak. In his first outright criticism of the uprising, he said last month it was the "wrong remedy that followed a wrong diagnosis."
But his comments at the youth forum provided his most detailed assessment of the uprising, which pro-government media routinely demonize as a foreign conspiracy to destroy the country.
The 2011 uprising was led by young, pro-democracy activists, and paved the way for Egypt's first free and fair elections, which were won by the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group whose stalwart Mohammed Morsi was elected president in 2012. His rule proved divisive, and in 2013 el-Sissi, as defense minister, led the military overthrow of Morsi amid mass protests.
Since then, the government has waged an unprecedented crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of Islamists along with some of the most prominent activists behind the 2011 uprising. Authorities have rolled back all the freedoms gained through the uprising, banning unauthorized protests and silencing most independent media. El-Sissi was re-elected earlier this year in a vote in which all potentially viable opponents were either jailed or withdrew under pressure.
He has defended his actions by saying they spared Egypt the fate of Syria, Yemen and Libya, where Arab Spring uprisings led to civil war.
On Sunday, he said the uprising created a "massive vacuum that only the evil people can fill" and warned against a repeat. He said Egyptians and others in the region would be better off under "not so good" rulers than living through chaos.
"Work, be patient, endure and suffer under the reality that you disapprove of, but don't ruin your countries because they will never return to what they once were," he warned.
Since taking office, el-Sissi has slashed costly state subsidies on basic goods and introduced new taxes while spending billions of dollars on infrastructure projects. His economic reforms helped Egypt secure $12 billion in bailout loans from the International Monetary Fund, but have caused a steep rise in the prices of food, fuel and services.
"After all the effort we have done, all that we are hoping for is that we go back to where we were before 2011," he said.