Following online criticism, Sisi denies taunting overweight Egyptians

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President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Wednesday denied taunting overweight Egyptians after drawing criticism over comments he made about the country’s bulging waistlines.

While inaugurating new health projects on December 15, Sisi called on Egyptians to lose weight and exercise more in a televised speech that quickly went viral on the internet.

“What are these people? Why are they not taking care of themselves?,” he said. He also suggested TV media should not host overweight presenters or guests.

On Wednesday, Sisi responded to critics saying his remarks were out of concern for the health of Egyptians and their future generations. “How can I shame my family? Egyptians are my family,” Sisi said.

Easy with jokes

He then asked detractors to “take it easy with the jokes”. A month earlier, Sisi made similar remarks criticizing overweight students saying their bodies should be “well-sculpted”.

His remarks sparked a stream of online criticism, with many accusing him of fat-shaming. Others noted that subsidized high-caloric food makes up a large portion of the diet of Egypt's poor majority, who are unable to afford healthier options.

Some 63 percent of adult Egyptians are overweight, according to the World Health Organization. It is one of the highest rates in the world.

Sisi came to power in a 2014 military coup. In recent years, criticism of his rule has largely remained confined to social media as virtually all other avenues of dissent have been shut down.