Egypt glued to El Sisi’s uncompromising vision of stability
On prime-time television, Abdel Fattah El Sisi has given Egyptians their first detailed preview of what Egypt will be like if the retired field marshal is elected president later this month.
There will be zero tolerance for anyone seeking, deliberately or otherwise, to undermine the country’s security and stability. The Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group whose president Mr El Sisi removed from power 10 months ago, will be crushed and pushed out of Egypt’s politics.
He also seeks the nation’s highest office not because he lusts after power, but rather because that is what the Egyptian people want. His presidency does not mean military rule and he has no intention of allowing his family, immediate and extended, to use his name to make gains.
In short, Mr El Sisi aims to create a nation of law and order, where stability and economic recovery are the top priorities.
Monday night’s TV interview was Mr El Sisi’s first since he forced the Islamist Mohammed Morsi from office last July and comes some six weeks after he formally announced his intention to run for president. Hosted by celebrity presenters Lamees El Hadeedi and Ibrahim Issa, the second part of the interview was scheduled to be aired late on Tuesday and was devoted entirely to the country’s woeful economy.
Mr El Sisi’s air of confidence in Monday’s interview, his presidential demeanour and his authoritative tone reflected the wave of popularity he has been riding since he removed Mr Morsi.
The interview, which was on two private channels at the relatively late hour of 10pm local time, left most Egyptians glued to their TV sets in a way not seen since the days of Egypt’s late rulers Gamal Abdel Nasser and his successor, Anwar Sadat, whose combined rein spanned three decades.
Mr El Sisi, in a dark suit and a blue tie, was unequivocal about some of the main issues troubling Egypt today.
The Muslim Brotherhood, he said, will never return as an organisation and he claimed it was using militant groups as a cover to destabilise the country. That, in effect, meant that there would be no reconciliation between any future government led by Mr El Sisi and the Islamist group, which won every election from the time of Hosni Mubarak’s removal in February 2011 and Mr Morsi’s last July.
His comments also appeared to suggest there would be no let-up on the crackdown against the Brotherhood and other Islamists, which has killed hundreds since July and put more than 16,000 others in jail, including Mr Morsi.
Asked whether the Brotherhood will cease to exist under his presidency, Mr El Sisi said: “Yes. Just like that.” He continued: “It’s not me that finished it, the Egyptian people have. The problem is not with me.” The Brotherhood, he said, had created Islamic militant groups to use as a cover that provides it with deniability.
Nearly two weeks before he removed Mr Morsi, Mr El Sisi said, the Brotherhood’s deputy leader, Khairat El Shater, warned him that if he toppled the Islamist president, extremist fighters from Afghanistan and elsewhere would come to Egypt to fight.
The Brotherhood, created in 1928, continues to enjoy the support of its hard-core base and supporters have continued to stage almost daily street protests for the past 10 months.
But the protests have steadily attracted fewer participants amid a nationwide outpouring of opposition, and even resentment, of the group.
Mr Morsi’s removal followed days in which millions of Egyptians took to the streets to demand that he steps down, accusing him of monopolising power and showing favouritism to his group.
Mr El Sisi’s uncompromisingly tough stand on the Brotherhood means that the campaign of violence waged by militants sympathetic to Mr Morsi and seeking his return would likely continue. However, Mr El Sisi reported successes in the fight against militants in the Sinai peninsula and asked Egyptians to lend their support to the police force as it fights them.
Egypt’s security forces had led the fight against Mr Morsi’s supporters, clashing with protesters and raiding militant hideouts. They have also endured the brunt of attacks blamed on militants, including bombings and assassinations.
Sounding tough and even angry, Mr El Sisi defended a controversial protest law adopted late last year, arguing that it was needed to prevent further instability and insisting that police will issue permits to anyone seeking to organise a peaceful demonstrations.
“We are talking about a nation that may cease to exist. Anyone who sees things differently is working to destroy the nation and we will not allow this,” he snapped when Mr Issa, the co-interviewer, suggested that violence and terrorism may pose the real threat to the nation not protesters.
On Tuesday, an Egyptian court also banned leaders of Mr Mubarak’s National Democratic Party from running in any elections.
The interview gave Mr El Sisi an opportunity to add a human touch to his image, speaking of how he met his wife as a teenager and promising her marriage when he went into the military academy. He also said that, in the 19 months he held the post of defence minister, one of his three sons was rejected twice when he applied to join the foreign ministry. But he did acknowledge that he has a son working for the General Intelligence Directorate and another working for the nation’s top oversight agency. He said nothing of his daughter.
* with additional reporting by the Associated Press
Updated: May 6, 2014 04:00 AM