EGYPT: General El-Sisi, frontrunner for president, in his own words for the first time in a TV interview

The former General, Field Marshall, and Defense Minister, who is expected to win the election held on May 26-27, discussed a number of issues including assassination attempts, the Muslim Brotherhood and how he would deal with the opposition.

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Ahram  (h/t Laura G) The first question El-Sisi was asked was why he had been silent in the past few weeks, sticking only to round-table discussions with representastives of various social groups. “The silence was necessary, if I was representing to Egyptians a hope or a hoped-for future, then I had to be a good role model to represent the Egyptians,” he said, referring to an election rule that barred candidates from campaigning before 2 May.

When asked if he would continue to maintain a low profile if elected Egypt’s president, he said he wouldn’t, as he would be repeating the mistakes of previous regimes. He said that previous regimes did not communicate with the people, adding that people have to “know and understand.”

El-Sisi, who resigned recently from the military to run for president, said that he couldn’t respect himself if he had a prearranged plan to “hijack” Egypt’s presidency when he gave the 3 July speech announcing Morsi’s ouster. “Neither would I be respecting the people if I did so.”

“Any responsible Egyptian who is capable of stepping in to save the nation, must do so … the country is being targeted from inside and out,” El-Sisi said, explaining his decision to run for the presidency. He said that there were signals that people wanted him to run for president.

“I do not talk much and I took the side of millions not because I was interested in power.”

El-Sisi told his two interviewers that he decided to run for president when he detected an effort to “destroy the state,” forcing him to heed the calls of the people. “On the constitution referendum days, people went out to vote for the constitution, but also their demand for me to run for president was clear,” El-Sisi said, in answer to what gave him indication that people wanted him to run.

He also said that he sensed people’s wishes for him to run through following army reports of the general opinion and the media. El-Sisi said that he has not been privy to such reports after stepping down from his post.

Taking off the fatigues

On leaving the army, El-Sisi, who rose through the ranks for the army since the mid 1970’s to become minister of defense in August 2012, said “I did not take permission [from the Supreme Council of Armed Forces], I informed them, as the military chief is a top position and does not take permission,” El-Sisi declared proudly.

El-Sisi said the army told him they loved him, so they didn’t want him to leave and run for president, but they said they loved the country more, so they didn’t have any other option but to let him leave. He also explained that he chose to announce his presidential bid [last month] in military uniform to pay tribute and “say thank you” to the army.

He insisted that the army has not ruled Egypt in the past 30 years and wouldn’t start doing so if he became president. El-Sisi also said that he has not been running the country ever since Morsi’s ouster, as claimed by critics. “I am only the defense minister,” is the phrase he used to describe himself when he was in office, speaking with anyone he met either from Egypt or outside.

Although he said he didn’t have a say in the ruling of Egypt, El-Sisi said he insisted on two decisions during cabinet meetings: deciding on the minimum and maximum wage for workers and increasing social insurance for the poor. The cabinet only agreed on these decisions because of the logic of the arguments behind them, he added.

Nasser

To those who compare him to the late president, El-Sisi said: “I wish I was like Nasser. Nasser was not just a portrait on walls for Egyptians but a photo and voice carved in their hearts.”

El-Sisi told El-Hadidi and Eissa that he decided to join military school following the defeat of the Egyptian army at the hands of Israel in the six-day war in 1967 after he was moved by the deep impact of the loss on the psyche of the Egyptian people.

Assassination

El-Sisi said he has faced two assassination attempts. When asked if the assassination attempts would dissuade him, if he became president, from going to the streets and being around people, El-Sisi said he would be amongst people “carrying out the responsibilities demanded by the presidency post.”

When El-Hadidi pointed out that El-Sisi has only received people for his presidential campaign and hasn’t done any visits, he said, “the campaign just started yesterday.”

The Muslim Brotherhood

“Yes. Just like this,” El Sisi said in answering a question by Eissa on whether people should vote for him for president on the basis that he would finish the Muslim Brotherhood as a group. He said that it wasn’t just him but all “Egyptians reject reconciliation with the Brotherhood.”

Khairat El-Shater, the Brotherhood strongman, who is now on trial, “threatened on 23 June 2013 that fighters from Libya, Syria and Afghanistan would enter the country if anything happensed to Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. I told him whoever raises a weapon against the army, we will obliterate him from the face of the earth,” El-Sisi told the anchors.

He added that all terroristsin the Sinai Peninsula could be eliminated in “an hour’s time” but that it took longer to isolate the militants there because the army wanted to minimise harm to “women, children and the elderly” in Sinai.

El-Sisi said that the army would increase its support of the police in fighting “terrorism” if he becomes president.

The presidential candidate stressed that Egyptians should pay very close attention to choosing not just the president but also the coming parliament. “What we went through [voting the Brotherhood] was a result of relying on emotions,” he added.

Protest Law

El-Sisi waived a question by El-Hadidi on whether he would heed calls by some for pardoning 25 January activists jailed for breaking the law, saying : “We will make that call when we cross that bridge.” The protest law punishes violators with up to three years in jail and hefty fines for protesting without police permits.

El-Sisi said “he would take whatever decision needed to protect the country from terrorism,” in an answer to questions from the anchors on whether he would pass an anti-terrorism law if elected president.

Upbringing

“I’m an Egyptian Muslim who loves his country, his religion and people, I was born and raised in one of the most ancient districts in Egypt [Al-Gamaliya] with cultural diversities,” El-Sisi said when asked to define himself.

He added that the neighbourhood was near the old “Jews Alley”, an old district in Cairo, where Jews used to live before they left Egypt en masse in the 1950s. El-Sisi said that no one was questioned when entering the Jewish Synagogue and no one thought of harming anyone. He also said he grew up hearing nearby church’s bells go off every Sunday for mass as a normal thing.

Family

El-Sisi said that he sees in his wife the insight of Egyptian women and how much they fear for the country. He added that his wife approved of his decision to run for president, telling him, “you don’t have any other option, we love you but the nation will be lost.” When asked about his children, El-Sisi said he has three sons, Mahmoud, Mostafa and Hassan, as well as a daughter, Aya.

He affirmed that despite two of his sons occupying governmental posts — Mahmoud in Egypt’s General Intelligence and Mostafa in Administrative Control Authority — El-Sisi said he did not intervene in getting them these jobs. As proof of his hatred of nepotism, El-Sisi revealed that his youngest son, Hassan, took the foreign ministry entrance exam twice, once when El-Sisi was head of military intelligence and again when he was defence minister, and that Hassan failed both times.

Electoral Programme

“We have 12 million people out of work. We have to work,” presidential hopeful El-Sisi added after saying he and the Egyptians would have to work around the clock to develop the country in order to make up for lost decades.

El-Sisi said he would not rule the country as an intelligence officer because he was first and foremost an army officer who was trained as such to lead in any field. “I will focus on security, stability and development, encompassing education, health and food security,” he said, adding that Egypt’s problems wouldn’t be solved in a fortnight.

“Egyptians don’t have a problem with patience,” El-Sisi said, after being asked how long it would take for Egyptians to feel any change. He said that Egyptians had a problem with trust, “when [Egyptians] feel that there is real change on the ground they will be the most patient people in the world.”

Army rule, opposition

The army has not ruled Egypt in the past 30 years, he said in response to a question about concerns of the onset of military rule, given his military background. “The army will not be involved in politics but will continue to help in economic developmental projects,” he said.

In response to questions on whether he would accept criticism, he said he would tolerate it. When asked if he would accept transgressions from the opposition, El-Sisi responded with a question: “Why would there be transgression? I treat people well, why should there be transgression?”

El-Sisi said that the concept of oppostion offence was wrong and “should be corrected” through him being a role model as well as through interaction and communication. He said that the state should contribute in “correcting” people’s ethics through using mechanisms such as the media, the family and religious institutions.

“It will take time, but we should start,” he said, adding that the president has a “coordination role” to play in this process.

Barack Hussein Obama is not at all happy as he continues to support the radical Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi.

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