CAIRO - President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Tuesday people in Egypt have the right to demonstrate but cautioned that protesting now could cause more harm to the country's battered economy.
Human rights activists say a law restricting protests and other security legislation enacted by Sisi in the absence of a parliament have rolled back freedoms won in a 2011 uprising that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Sisi was elected virtually unopposed last May, almost a year after the military he then led toppled freely elected Islamist president Mohamed Mursi. A security crackdown under Sisi's watch ended months of economically ruinous anti-government unrest and jailed thousands of Islamists and liberal activists alike, including people for demonstrating without a police permit.
Sisi did not mention various security laws, which have been condemned by rights groups at home and abroad, in his speech. The occasion for his remarks was a Police Day celebration.
"I am more keen on human rights than anybody...But take care when you demand your rights. Take care, don't take us down with you," Sisi told hundreds of police officers and many senior government officials.
"I never say that demonstrations are refused. We put the issue of protesting in a distinguished position...But the 90 million people (of Egypt) want to eat, drink, live and be assured about their future," Sisi said.