* Robert Springborg: Many Egyptians fear that General Fattah al-Sisi wants to return Egypt to a familiar style of secular authoritarianism. But his record suggests he may have very different intentions: a hybrid regime that would combine Islamism with militarism.
* Even though he overthrew a government dominated by Islamists, there is reason to suspect that Sisi’s true goal might not be the establishment of a more inclusive, secular democracy but, rather, a military-led resurrection and reformation of the Islamist project that the Brotherhood so abysmally mishandled.
* He is reputed to be a particularly devout Muslim who frequently inserts Koranic verses into informal conversations, and his wife wears the conservative dress favored by more orthodox Muslims in Egypt. Those concerned about Sisi’s views on women’s rights were alarmed by his defense of the military’s use of “virginity tests” for female demonstrators detained during the uprising against Mubarak. Human-rights activists argued that the “tests” amounted to sexual assaults.
* The thesis that Sisi produced at the U.S. Army War College, despite its innocuous title (“Democracy in the Middle East”), reads like a tract produced by the Muslim Brotherhood. He writes: “Democracy cannot be understood in the Middle East without an understanding of the concept of El Kalafa,” or the caliphate, which Sisi defines as the 70-year period when Muslims were led by Muhammad and his immediate successors.
* Sisi is not nearly as modest as he has long preferred Egyptians to believe. It is significant that he not only remained minister of defense in the new government but also took the post of first deputy prime minister. Sisi also had his spokesman release a 30-minute YouTube video glorifying the general and the military. Not long thereafter, demonstrators in Cairo and elsewhere were seen carrying large photos of Sisi.
This is another in a series of dispatches concerning Egypt. I attach three notes by myself and then three articles by others, including the Washington Post interview with General Sisi.
* You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.
1. Cairo court sentences 43 democratic activists to prison
2. Egypt cancels Erdogan’s visit to Gaza
3. Al-Masry Al-Youm: Majority of terrorists in Sinai arrested
4. “Sisi’s Islamist agenda for Egypt” (By Robert Springborg, Foreign Affairs, July 28, 2013)
5. “Egypt’s kingmaker might be its king” (By Ahmed Feteha, Wall Street Journal, July 28, 2013)
6. An interview with Gen. Sisi (By Lally Weymouth, Washington Post, August 3, 2013)
[Notes by Tom Gross]
CAIRO COURT SENTENCES 43 DEMOCRATIC ACTIVISTS TO PRISON
Last week, a Cairo court sentenced 43 pro-democracy activists to up to five years in prison. The charges include operating “illegal nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)” and “receiving foreign funds without permission”.
As I wrote at the time when he was arrested earlier this year, among them are Robert Becker of the National Democratic Institute, the only American citizen who remained in Egypt to face the charges. He and four others were given a two-year sentence. Twenty-seven other foreign employees were sentenced in absentia to five years each, while 11 Egyptians received one-year sentences.
The 43 worked for peaceful organizations such as Freedom House, the International Center for Journalists and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
The 2011 revolution was supposed to end the repressive climate under Mubarak. It seems not much has changed.
EGYPT CANCELS ERDOGAN’S VISIT TO GAZA
The Palestinian Ma’an news agency reports that the new Egyptian government has canceled the planned visit to Gaza by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Egyptian authorities said Erdogan was too close to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt’s state prosecutor said last week that ousted President Mohamed Morsi was detained over suspected collaboration with Hamas in attacks on police stations and prison breaks in early 2011.
For background, please see:
AL-MASRY AL-YOUM: MAJORITY OF TERRORISTS IN SINAI ARRESTED
The Egyptian publication Al-Masry Al-Youm reports that for the first time in weeks, Sinai has witnessed several days without any terror attacks.
The Egyptian security forces have deployed in strength across Northern Sinai since the overthrow of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi on July 3. The almost daily attacks had rocked the lawless Sinai peninsula, and troops, police officers and civilians were killed.
A security source told Al-Masry Al-Youm that “the latest calm can be attributed to the fact the majority of terrorists in the Sinai have been arrested.”
Those arrested, he said, include Palestinian members of Hamas, and Jihadis from Syria and Afghanistan, as well as Egyptians.
I attach articles below
The first is by Robert Springborg, writing in the journal Foreign Affairs. Springborg is professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School.
The second is by Ahmed Feteha, the business editor of Ahram Online, Egypt’s largest English language news website.
The third is an interview given to the Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth by Egyptian Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. Lally Weymouth, who has interviewed most of the leading Middle East leaders over the years, is a longtime subscriber to this email list, and a member of the Graham family that this week sold the Washington Post to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. She is the daughter of Katharine Graham and Philip Graham, both of whom were publishers of the Post, and is the mother of the Washington Post’s present publisher, Katharine Weymouth.
-- Tom Gross
A HYBRID REGIME THAT WOULD COMBINE ISLAMISM WITH MILITARISM?
Sisi’s Islamist Agenda for Egypt
The General’s Radical Political Vision
By Robert Springborg
July 28, 2013
Many Egyptians fear that Fattah al-Sisi wants to return Egypt to a familiar style of secular authoritarianism. But his record suggests he may have very different – although equally undemocratic – political intentions: a hybrid regime that would combine Islamism with militarism.
Addressing graduates of military academies is a standard responsibility for high-ranking military officers all over the world. But last week, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the commander of Egypt’s armed forces, which recently deposed the country’s first freely elected president, went far beyond the conventions of the genre in a speech to graduates of Egypt’s Navy and Air Defense academies. Sisi’s true audience was the wider Egyptian public, and he presented himself less as a general in the armed forces than as a populist strongman. He urged Egyptians to take to the streets to show their support for the provisional government that he had installed after launching a coup to remove from power President Mohamed Morsi, a longtime leader of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. “I’ve never asked you for anything,” Sisi declared, before requesting a “mandate” to confront the Muslim Brotherhood, whose supporters have launched protests and sit-ins to denounce the new military-backed regime.
Sisi’s speech was only the latest suggestion that he will not be content to simply serve as the leader of Egypt’s military. Although he has vowed to lead Egypt through a democratic transition, there are plenty of indications that he is less than enthusiastic about democracy and that he intends to hold on to political power himself. But that’s not to say that he envisions a return to the secular authoritarianism of Egypt’s recent past. Given the details of Sisi’s biography and the content of his only published work, a thesis he wrote in 2006 while studying at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania, it seems possible that he might have something altogether different in mind: a hybrid regime that would combine Islamism with militarism. To judge from the ideas about governance that he put forward in his thesis, Sisi might see himself less as a custodian of Egypt’s democratic future than as an Egyptian version of Muhammed Zia ul-Haq, the Pakistani general who seized power in 1977 and set about to “Islamicize” state and society in Pakistan.
Last summer, when Morsi tapped Sisi to replace Minister of Defense Muhammad Tantawi, Morsi clearly believed that he had chosen someone who was willing to subordinate himself to an elected government. Foreign observers also interpreted Sisi’s promotion as a signal that the military would finally be professionalized, beginning with a reduction of its role in politics and then, possibly, the economy. Sisi’s initial moves as defense minister reinforced this optimism. He immediately removed scores of older officers closely associated with his corrupt and unpopular predecessor. And he implicitly criticized the military’s involvement in politics after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, warning that such “dangerous” interventions could turn Egypt into Afghanistan or Somalia and would not recur.
The Muslim Brotherhood also had a favorable attitude toward Sisi, and certainly did not see him as a threat. Brotherhood spokesmen praised his dedication to military modernization and noted that, unlike his predecessor, who maintained close ties to Washington, Sisi was a fierce Egyptian nationalist – “100 percent patriotic,” in the words of Gamal Hishmat, the official spokesman for the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. In May, when a prominent ultraconservative Salafist named Hazem Abu Ismail criticized Sisi for making “emotional” appeals for popular support for the military, a number of Brothers leapt to the general’s defense.
Throughout Sisi’s tenure as defense minister, the Brotherhood dismissed his political potential. Obviously, they underestimated him. That is not to say that he had been planning a coup the entire time; there is not enough evidence to determine that. But there is plenty of evidence that Sisi is not nearly as modest as he has always preferred Egyptians to believe. It is significant that he not only remained minister of defense in the new government but also took the post of first deputy prime minister. Following the cabinet’s formation, Sisi’s spokesperson appeared on television to say that although the general was not running for the presidency, there was nothing to prevent him from so doing if he retired from the military. Sisi also had his spokesman release a 30-minute YouTube video glorifying the general and the military, taking particular care to illustrate the military’s provision of goods and services to civilians. Not long thereafter, demonstrators in Cairo and elsewhere were seen carrying large photos of Sisi.
As fears of the general’s political ambitions have intensified, so have concerns about the nature of his political views. Since deposing Morsi, Sisi has clearly been trying to give the impression that he is committed to democracy. He has taken pains to ensure that civilian political figures share the limelight with him. Hazem al-Beblawi, who was appointed as the prime minister of the transitional government, claimed in his first television interview after taking office that he had not met Sisi prior to the swearing-in ceremony and that the general had not intervened in any way in his choice of ministers.
But even though he overthrew a government dominated by Islamists, there is reason to suspect that Sisi’s true goal might not be the establishment of a more inclusive, secular democracy but, rather, a military-led resurrection and reformation of the Islamist project that the Brotherhood so abysmally mishandled. Indeed, after Morsi became president, he tapped Sisi to become defense minster precisely because there was plenty of evidence that the general was sympathetic to Islamism. He is reputed to be a particularly devout Muslim who frequently inserts Koranic verses into informal conversations, and his wife wears the conservative dress favored by more orthodox Muslims. Those concerned about Sisi’s views on women’s rights were alarmed by his defense of the military’s use of “virginity tests” for female demonstrators detained during the uprising against Mubarak. Human-rights activists argued that the “tests” were amounted to sexual assaults; Sisi countered that they were intended “to protect the girls from rape.”
Morsi likely also found much to admire in the thesis that Sisi produced at the U.S. Army War College, which, despite its innocuous title (“Democracy in the Middle East”), reads like a tract produced by the Muslim Brotherhood. In his opening paragraph, Sisi emphasizes the centrality of religion to the politics of the region, arguing that “for democracy to be successful in the Middle East,” it must show “respect to the religious nature of the culture” and seek “public support from religious leaders [who] can help build strong support for the establishment of democratic systems.” Egyptians and other Arabs will view democracy positively, he wrote, only if it “sustains the religious base versus devaluing religion and creating instability.” Secularism, according to Sisi, “is unlikely to be favorably received by the vast majority of Middle Easterners, who are devout followers of the Islamic faith.” He condemns governments that “tend toward secular rule,” because they “disenfranchise large segments of the population who believe religion should not be excluded from government,” and because “they often send religious leaders to prison.”
But Sisi’s thesis goes beyond simply rejecting the idea of a secular state; it embraces a more radical view of the proper place of religion in an Islamic democracy. He writes: “Democracy cannot be understood in the Middle East without an understanding of the concept of El Kalafa,” or the caliphate, which Sisi defines as the 70-year period when Muslims were led by Muhammad and his immediate successors. Re-establishing this kind of leadership “is widely recognized as the goal for any new form of government” in the Middle East, he asserts. The central political mechanisms in such a system, he believes, are al-bi’ah (fealty to a ruler) and shura (a ruler’s consultation with his subjects). Apologists for Islamic rule sometimes suggest that these concepts are inherently democratic, but in reality they fall far short of the democratic mark.
Sisi concludes that a tripartite government would be acceptable only if the executive, legislative, and judicial branches are all sufficiently Islamic; otherwise, there must be an independent “religious” branch of government. He acknowledges that it will be a challenge to incorporate Islam into government, but concludes that there is no other choice. (As an afterthought, he adds that “there must be consideration given to non-Islamic beliefs.”)
If Sisi’s thesis truly reflects his thinking – and there is no reason to believe otherwise – it suggests not only that he might want to stay at the helm of the new Egyptian state but that his vision of how to steer Egyptian society differs markedly from those of the secular-nationalist military rulers who led Egypt for decades: Gamal Abdel al-Nasser, Anwar al-Sadat, and Mubarak. The ideas in Sisi’s thesis hew closer to those of Zia ul-Haq, who overthrew Pakistan’s democratically elected government in 1977 and soon began a campaign of “Islamicization” that included the introduction of some elements of sharia into Pakistani law, along with a state-subsidized boom in religious education. It is worth noting that Sisi has gone out of his way to court the Salafist al-Nour Party, by ensuring that the constitutional declaration issued on July 13 preserved the controversial article stating “the principles of sharia law derived from established Sunni canons” will be Egypt’s “main source of legislation.” He also tried to undercut support for the leaders of the Brotherhood by appealing directly to their followers, referring to them as “good Egyptians” and “our brothers.” These moves may have been intended to inoculate him against the charge that the coup was anti-Islamist – a critical point, since Islamism still enjoys broad support in many parts of Egyptian society. But it may also reflect a genuine belief in and commitment to Islamism.
If Sisi continues to seek legitimacy for military rule by associating it with Islamism, it could prove to be a disaster for Egypt. At the very least, it would set back the democratic cause immeasurably. It would also reinforce the military’s octopus-like hold on the economy, which is already one of the major obstacles to the country’s economic development. And it would also pose new dilemmas for the military itself: somehow it would need to reconcile serving the strategic objectives of Islam and those of its American patrons. It’s not clear whether that circle could be squared. And the experiment would likely come at the expense of the Egyptian people.
EGYPT’S KINGMAKER MIGHT BE ITS KING
Egypt’s Kingmaker Might Be Its King
By Ahmed Feteha
Wall Street Journal (Opinion)
July 28, 2013
With dozens of Islamist protesters dead and hundreds wounded, this weekend in Egypt was the bloodiest since the army overthrew President Mohammed Morsi earlier this month. Egyptians were not surprised by the violence: The man behind Mr. Morsi’s ouster, Gen. Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, had all but promised the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters.
In days that followed the July 3 coup, news reports suggested that “the military” was running the country on an interim basis until elections could be held. It has since become clear that Gen. Sisi is firmly in charge, and his intentions are less clear.
In a lengthy, televised speech on Wednesday, Gen. Sisi called for nationwide rallies on Friday to give the armed forces a “mandate” to combat “violence and terrorism” – a synonym for the Brotherhood. In issuing the threat, Gen. Sisi instantly brought to mind Gamal Abdel Nasser, another adventurous Egyptian army officer who led his own coup, against King Farouk in 1952. Nasser ushered in a dictatorship that would last until 2011. In 1954, Nasser rounded up and tortured thousands of Brotherhood members. Many Egyptians worried that history was repeating itself.
On Friday, Gen’s Sisi’s supporters turned out by the hundreds of thousands in many cities. Nearly all of the country’s television channels, including privately owned ones, devoted their coverage to the pro-army rallies. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Mr. Morsi’s supporters gathered in an eastern Cairo suburb, Nasr City, where they have held a defiant vigil for over a month. In the early hours Saturday, when some of the protesters attempted to expand the area of the sit-in, security forces opened fire. The Brotherhood insists that the attack was a “premeditated massacre.” The security forces contend that the Islamists were armed and “created a crisis.” So far, the army and Gen. Sisi have remained silent.
In the weeks since Mr. Morsi was removed from office, Gen. Sisi has been the country’s most popular figure. State-run media regularly compare “the field marshall of the people” to larger-than-life Egyptian leaders like Anwar Sadat and even Ahmose, the pharaoh who expelled the Hyksos invaders from the country 3,500 years ago.
Even after Saturday’s bloodshed, the media largely echoed the official line blaming the Muslim Brotherhood, not Gen. Sisi’s rallying cry against the Islamist group. But in throwing over Mr. Morsi, Gen. Sisi is largely responsible for alienating Islamists, who account for at least a quarter of the population. On Friday, as pro-army crowds gathered, the government added fuel to the fire by filing criminal charges against Mr. Morsi for collaborating with the Hamas militant group during the 2011 Egyptian revolution.
Gen. Sisi has promised that he has no desire to rule. But many find it hard to believe that he will head back to the barracks after seizing the heights of Egyptian political life. And with hundreds of thousands of supporters chanting Gen. Sisi’s name in Tahrir Square, the little-known general is increasingly looking like Egypt’s king rather than its kingmaker.
At 58, Gen. Sisi is a former head of the military intelligence services and the youngest member of the military council that ruled Egypt after the Hosni Mubarak regime fell two years ago. The general studied at the U.S. Army War College and the Defense Academy of the United Kingdom. He was a military attaché in Saudi Arabia and was one of the Egyptian military officials who coordinated antiterror efforts with the U.S. after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
But none of this is particularly remarkable. As one well-connected source in the Egyptian armed forces told me: “To dive into Sisi’s character, you have to think of him as a project, not an individual.”
Gen. Sisi, it turns out, was one of a handpicked few that Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi – Gen. Sisi’s long-serving predecessor – groomed to become the army’s future leaders. A young major in the early 1990s, Gen. Sisi worked in virtually every department in the ministry of defense. He would leave to serve in combat units to fulfill his promotion requirements, only to return again to the ministry. Since the army is the heart of Egypt’s bureaucracy, the general became familiar with the inner workings of the state.
With such training, Gen. Sisi bears more resemblance to Mr. Mubarak than to Nasser. Like Mr. Mubarak he belongs to the class of top-level bureaucrats who are conservative by nature. Like Mr. Mubarak, he has firsthand administrative experience and knows the depth of Egypt’s predicaments. He played by the rules even as he climbed the power ladder.
This institutional commitment is perhaps what Mr. Morsi saw in Gen. Sisi when appointing him army chief in August 2012: a model soldier who would obey orders and stay out of politics. What Mr. Morsi overlooked or didn’t understand is that the army that ruled Egypt for 60 years hardly considers the public sphere off-limits. As early as October 2012, in a televised speech, Gen. Sisi reminded his countrymen of the centrality of the military to the country’s fate. “As long as the Egyptian army is strong, coherent and solid,” he said, “don’t be concerned” about Egypt’s future.
Ousting the president and bringing the army back into politics was a risky move that Gen. Sisi couldn’t have taken unless he had solid support inside the institution. It appears he did. “It was not an individual decision. He had the blessing of his mentors and the ‘core leadership’ of the army,” another army source told me.
As Christopher Hitchens once put it: “Egypt is not a country that has an army, but an army that has a country.” Gen. Sisi seems to have acted out of the conviction that the army is Egypt’s guardian. But this guardianship appears to be turning into an ownership, with Gen. Sisi holding the keys and the rest of the army’s top brass lined up behind him.
SISI: THE EGYPTIAN MILITARY DOES NOT MAKE COUP D’ÉTATS
An interview with Egyptian Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sisi
By Lally Weymouth
August 3, 2013
The following are excerpts from Washington Post senior associate editor Lally Weymouth’s Aug. 1 interview with Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, Egypt’s defense minister, armed forces commander and deputy prime minister.
Sisi: The Egyptian military does not make coup d’états. The last coup was in the fifties. There is a very special relationship that binds the Egyptians and their military.
The dilemma between the former president and the people originated from the ideology that the Muslim Brotherhood adopted for building a country, which is based on restoring the Islamic religious empire.
It was always in their minds that they have the exclusive truth and the exclusive rights. This made them lead the country only to satisfy the grass-roots that they represent. That’s what made him [Morsi] not a president for all Egyptians.
Weymouth: When did that become obvious to you?
Sisi: It was obvious [from] the day of his inauguration. He started by offending the judiciary … [Then] The Brotherhood experience in ruling a country was very modest – if not absent. A major part of their culture is to work secretly underground.
We [the army] dealt with the president with all due respect for a president chosen by the Egyptians. We were very sincere in all the assessments that we referred to him throughout the period I was in my office as commander in chief.
We understand also that the military’s intervention to support the Egyptians was not a surprise. We can go back [through] my statements, starting with my invitation to the political powers in Egypt to come to a negotiating table for reconciliation in November of last year until the last 48-hour deadline I gave the president and the political powers to come to a compromise.
Weymouth: Was this before the constitution?
Sisi: Before. There was sincere advice referred to the president [by the army] on developments on the ground and . . . proposed recommendations [as to] how to deal [with them].
Weymouth: So you were giving the president advice on Ethiopia and the Sinai, for example, and he was ignoring you?
Sisi: The military [was] very keen and predetermined on [Morsi’s] success. If we wanted to oppose or not allow [the Brotherhood] to come to rule Egypt, we would have done things with the elections, as elections used to be rigged in the past.
Unfortunately, the former president picked fights with almost all the state institutions — with the judiciary, with the al-Azhar religious institution, with the Coptic church, with the media, and with the political powers. Even with public opinion. When a president is having conflicts with all of these state institutions, the chance of success for such a president is very meager. On the other hand, the president was trying to call in supporters from religious groups.
Weymouth: From where?
Sisi: From inside Egypt. He was trying to call in and mobilize around him people with religious backgrounds in order to show that he had support.
Weymouth: But not from other countries?
Sisi: Both, as a matter of fact. It was available at that time for these people to come to support him from the inside or the outside.
Weymouth: Reportedly, he made it available for people to come from Afghanistan and to go to the Sinai, is that true?
Sisi: Yes, he made it available for people from Afghanistan to come into Egypt and maybe to go into Sinai. The influence of the jihadist Salifists. . . [increased] over time. The security procedures that were in place to prevent terrorist elements and weapons from entering the country disappeared with president [Morsi]. So they found a very free and fertile environment to work in.
Remember this — the concept of the state with [the Brotherhood] is completely different than the concept of any modern state that we can find around the world. They look at political borders as boundaries created by imperialism to put the Islamic world under partition.
Weymouth: Did they have contacts with other Islamic groups in other countries?
Sisi: They have an international presence in more than 60 countries — the Muslim Brotherhood. The idea that gathers them together is not nationalism, it’s not patriotism — it is an ideology that is totally related to the concept of the organization.
Let’s go back to the developing circumstances here. Among the Egyptians, resentment started to rise. They were also terrified and terrorized in their own homes. It is true that former president Morsi came to office with 51 percent of the people’s vote, but many of them felt that they had put their lives and the lives of their children in the wrong hands. They did not imagine that this leadership would deal with them the way it did throughout the year.
The Muslim Brotherhood have their own values, but they look at their own values as those that should be followed and imposed upon the Egyptians. No one else has the right to their own principles. We find that their real representation among the Egyptians varies between 5 to 10 percent maximum.
Weymouth: You hear 30 percent or so in the U.S.
Sisi: Americans base their estimates on the results of the elections. A major part of this percentage is composed of sympathetic Egyptian voters. The Egyptians felt sympathy for people who had been humiliated and oppressed by the previous regime. They believed in their goodness, in their religious appearance, and they gave them their votes.
Weymouth: To many Egyptians, you are a hero. Will you run for president?
Sisi: I am not a hero. I’m just a person who loves his people and country and felt hurt that the Egyptians were treated in such a way. The simple Egyptian people were crying in their homes. Heroism comes only from mutual sentiments. It’s not an epic deed that has been conducted.
Weymouth: Are you disappointed by U.S. reaction to the events of July 3rd? Do you feel it is unfair?
Sisi: The United States was never far from anything that was going on here. We were very keen on providing very clear briefings to all U.S. officials.
Months ago, I told them there was a very big problem in Egypt. I asked for their support, for their consultation, for their advice, as they are our strategic partner and allies.
Weymouth: Months ago?
Sisi: Months ago. The developments and complications of the situation were very clearly provided for the Americans many months ago.
Weymouth: Did you tell them before Morsi left that he was going to go?
Weymouth: Not even the day before?
Sisi: In our statements, we said in clear words that the complications and developments on the ground would lead to a civil war here.
When these statements came out in March, in the U.S. there were a lot of question marks. They said, “Why is the General saying that the developments and complications on the ground will lead to a crisis?”
The numbers of the people who began to oppose the political leadership grew in size and continued to grow until there was that spectacular mass of the people. Throughout the different phases, we had our recommendations and proposed advice [to Morsi]. A lot of things could have happened – like, for example, forming a coalition government without having to touch the post of the president.
Weymouth: If Morsi had cooperated?
Sisi: Cooperated with the people, not with me.
Weymouth: In order to stay as president, he would have had to agree to something?
Sisi: He just used to listen to all recommendations and advice but never executed any of them. Yes. I believe it wasn’t him alone who was making the decisions. There was the organization of the Brotherhood behind him — the Guidance Office of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian people felt that he wasn’t the man making the decisions and that he wasn’t their president. He was the president of a certain faction, and he was not exercising command or leadership. The leadership was in the hands of the Brotherhood. And this is one major reason for his failure.
Weymouth: The United States is very concerned about the sit-ins at Rabaa [al-Adawiya mosque] and Nahdet [Misr Square], [two areas in Cairo where the Muslim Brotherhood has staged protests].
Sisi: We really wonder: where is the role of the United States and the European Union and all of the other international forces that are interested in the security, safety and well-being of Egypt? Are the values of freedom and democracy exclusively exercised in your countries but other countries do not have the right to exercise the same values and enjoy the same environment? Have you seen the scores of millions of Egyptians calling for change in Tahrir? What is your response to that?
You left the Egyptians, you turned your back on the Egyptians and they won’t forget that. Now you want to continue turning your backs on Egyptians? The U.S. interest and the popular will of the Egyptians don’t have to conflict. We always asked the U.S. officials to provide advice to the former president to overcome his problems.
Weymouth: What did the United States do?
Sisi: The result is very obvious. Where is the economic support to Egypt from the U.S.? Even throughout the year when the former president was in office — where was the U.S. support to help the country restore its economy and overcome its dire needs?
The dynamics in the street here is very fast. The will of the people moves by the hour. Only 20 days before Morsi was ousted, the public was only calling for reshuffling the government. But ten days later, the demands changed to having early presidential elections. Five days later, the call was for Morsi to leave.
I want to remind you that we gave a 7-day grace period for everybody in Egypt before the 30th of June – a period for the key players to work the problem out. On June 30th, at the end of the seven days, I gave an extra 48 hours. I stated very clearly that with the end of the 48 hours, if nothing changes, there would be a road map declared between the military and political powers of Egypt.
The day the communique was declared [July 3], there was a meeting [I called] with the [Coptic] pope, the grand sheikh of al-Azhar, Dr. [Mohamed] ElBaradei, a political representative of the Salifist Nour Party, a representative for the Egyptian women, representatives from the Egyptian judiciary and representatives from the young people, the Tamarod. The Freedom and Justice Party was invited to this meeting.
Weymouth: And they didn’t come?
Sisi: They didn’t show up. At this meeting, all attendees agreed on the road map. The first point is that the chief justice of the supreme constitutional court will be an interim president for the republic. A technocrat government has been formed. A committee will be formed of legal and constitutional experts to address constitutional amendments and provide recommendations for public debate. After the public debate, the constitution will be put up for a public referendum. Once the constitution is approved, we will conduct parliamentary and then presidential elections within nine months.
Weymouth: Are you going to run for president?
Sisi: I want to say that the most important achievement in my life is to overcome this circumstance, [to ensure] that we live peacefully, to go on with our road map and to be able to conduct the coming elections without shedding one drop of Egyptian blood.
Weymouth: But are you going to run?
Sisi: You just can’t believe that there are people who don’t aspire for authority.
Weymouth: Is that you?
Sisi: Yes. It’s the hopes of the people that is our [hope]. And when the people love you – this is the most important thing for me.
The pains and suffering of the people are too many. A lot of people don’t know about the suffering. I am the most aware of the size of the problems in Egypt. That is why I am asking: where is your support? The title of the article should be “Hey America: Where is your support for Egypt? Where is your support for free people?”
On July 3rd, the same day the communique was declared, I sent a message to the former president. I asked him to keep the initiative in his hands. Put yourself to a public referendum and see if the people want you.
Weymouth: And he said?
Sisi: No way. Not yet. After two years.
Weymouth: Did he understand that he was just about to go?
Sisi: No. Nobody expected that.
Weymouth: When did you make up your mind?
Sisi: I made every possible effort to show due respect and due discipline for the state institution to the very last minute.
Weymouth: Did you feel there would be civil strife if the army didn’t intervene?
Sisi: I expected if we didn’t intervene, it would have turned into a civil war. Four months before he left, I told Morsi the same thing. I told him that the way you and your group are dealing with the Egyptians, you are creating a conflict between your supporters, who deal with the Egyptians not as political opposition but as people who are trying to fight against Islam. I told him at that time that if the two groups of Egyptians, your supporters and the rest of the Egyptians, fight with each other, as the military, I wouldn’t be able to do anything.
What I want the American reader to know is that this is a free people who rebelled against an unjust political rule, and this free people needs your support. You are dealing with a patriotic and an honorable military institution that does not aspire for power and the Egyptians should be supported and assisted by the free peoples of the world. Because Egyptians won’t forget who is extending their helping hands and who is turning their backs on them.
Weymouth: Aren’t the Americans warning the interim government against any further civil strife or bloodshed?
Sisi: The U.S. administration has a lot of leverage and influence with the Muslim Brotherhood, and I’d really like the U.S. administration to use this leverage with them to resolve the conflict.
Weymouth: How do you feel about reconciliation with [the Islamists]? Do you think it’s important?
Sisi: Of course.
Weymouth: How can you do that when the Muslim Brotherhood feels they won the election and now their leaders are in jail?
Sisi: In your opinion, how many Muslim Brothers are in jail? 5,000? 7,000?
Weymouth: I have no idea.
Sisi: It’s about eight or nine people. And they were arrested legally with legal warrants.
The leaders, Saad al-Katatni and Khairat al-Shater, are the only ones in jail right now under investigation for prosecution. The rest of the leaders are outside. Most of them are in Rabaa. They are protecting themselves with the masses of the people there.
Whoever will clean these squares or resolve these sit-ins will not be the military. There is a civil police and they are assigned to these duties. On the 26th of this month, more than 30 million people went out onto the streets to give me support. These people are waiting for me to do something.
Weymouth: I heard people are starting to criticize you because you haven’t done anything about the two sites. Is that true?
Sisi: Can we just sacrifice thousands of people on the street just to evade criticism? I cannot do anything that would lead to bloodshed to evade criticism.
Weymouth: What is Hamas’ involvement inside Egypt?
Sisi: Hamas is part of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood looked at Hamas as part of the family.
Weymouth: How can you assure the United States that you don’t want the military to rule Egypt — that the army wants to go back to its barracks?
Sisi: Mark my words and take me very seriously: The Egyptian military is different from other militaries around the world.
Weymouth: Is your intention not to have the military step in again? With the new constitution, is your intention to adopt democracy in Egypt?
Sisi: Yes, we understand that mechanisms of democracies and the constitutions around the world provide the means for the people to change or impeach their presidents if they are not satisfied with their performances.
Weymouth: But you hope the future constitution provides for a democratic way [to oust a leader]? Do you really want to have civilian rule here?
Sisi: Yes, absolutely.
Weymouth: That is your dream one day?
Sisi: Yes, I hope this day will come soon.
Weymouth: In a future election, would Egypt accept international observers?
Sisi: We are ready to receive monitors and international observers for the elections from everywhere in the world.
The Egyptians are looking up to you, the Americans. Don’t disappoint their hopes. Don’t give them your backs. In the Egyptian culture, talking a lot about aid and U.S. assistance really hurts our pride and dignity.
Weymouth: Are you referring to a possible cut off of U.S. assistance? Are you worried?
Sisi: If the Americans want to cut assistance, they can do that. But they don’t have to hurt us. That hurts the Egyptians a lot.
Weymouth: Were you upset by the hold up of the [F-16s]?
Sisi: Yes. This is not the way to deal with a patriotic military.
Weymouth: Did President Obama call you after July 3rd?
Weymouth: Did any U.S. official call you? Secretary of State [John F.] Kerry? Defense Secretary [Chuck] Hagel?
Sisi: Hagel. Almost every day.
I just want to emphasize that you are dealing with a person who is honorable, sincere, someone who has integrity. Someone who would not have respected himself if he didn’t do what he did [on July 3rd]. I could have just satisfied myself being a Minister of Defense and turned my head away from the Egyptians and the problems from which they were suffering every day and just left the Egyptian scene to boil. We changed places – the military and the Egyptians. We wanted to give them comfort, to relieve their suffering, and take the suffering on our shoulders. We relieved their suffering and took it on our shoulders.