Egyptian presidential frontrunner Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who ousted elected leader Mohamed Morsi last year, has prioritised stability over freedoms, insisting it will take up to 25 years for Egypt to achieve "true democracy", the AFP news agency reports.
Three years after millions of protesters demanding "bread, freedom and social justice" rose up and toppled strongman Hosni Mubarak's regime, Sisi warned such aspirations were hindering national security and slowing a much-needed economic recovery.
"You write in the newspaper, 'No voice is louder than freedom of speech!' What is this?" Sisi asked a group of Egyptian journalists at a round-table meeting in Cairo this week, the AFP news agency reported.
"What tourist would come to a country where we have demonstrations like this? Are you forgetting that there are millions of people and families who can't earn their living because of the protests? It is one of the manifestations of instability."
Since 2011, Egypt has seen two presidents ousted after mass street protests, a deadly crackdown on protesters that has killed hundreds, and a spate of fighters' attacks that has left the country deeply polarised and its economy in shambles.
The situation was further aggravated when the interim authorities installed by Sisi passed a law banning all but police-sanctioned protests.
Several top campaigners of the 2011 anti-Mubarak uprising have been jailed for breaking the protest law, while a brutal government crackdown against supporters of Morsi has killed more than 1,400 people since July last year.
Twenty-five years to democracy
While there has been international outrage over the crackdown that has also seen hundreds of Morsi supporters sentenced to death after speedy trials, Egyptian media has largely backed the authorities.
If you have information on an issue, whisper it in the ear of an official instead of exposing it
"The number of television channels that are shut down, the number of journalists who are in detention, the number of political prisoners who are in jails... all this is unprecedented," said Osama Diab, analyst with Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
He said Sisi was attempting a "trade-off between freedoms and stability which we have been living for the past 30, 40 or even 50 years".
"You can have human rights only when stability is based on genuine democratic principles and not on perceived short-term stability."
Sisi said the authorities needed time to perform.
"Give officials a chance for say, four months," said the retired field marshal who is expected to trounce his only rival, leftist leader Hamdeen Sabbahi, in the May 26-27 presidential election.
"If you have information on an issue, whisper it in the ear of an official instead of exposing it," he said at the round-table, excerpts of which were broadcast by private television networks.
During the round-table as well as in a separate television interview aired on Tuesday and Wednesday, Sisi repeatedly spoke of stability and showed unflinching determination to fight the Muslim Brotherhood to which Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, belongs.
Sisi said that given the situation in Egypt, which cannot be compared to Western democracies, it could take "20 to 25 years to achieve true democracy" in the Arab world's most populous country.