Sisi remains elusive on question of presidency

In the third installment of an interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm, Defense Minister Colonel General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said it was not the right time to respond to the question of whether he would run for president.

At the tail end of the expansive three-part interview — the first two parts of which were published on Monday and Tuesday — the newspaper’s editor, Yasser Rizk, asked the commander-in-chief what he would do if people demanded that he nominate himself for president.

“Now is not the suitable time to ask this question,” Sisi said.

In an answer that, as many would expect, was carefully elusive, he added, “Considering the challenges facing the country, we all need to focus our efforts on achieving the goals of the roadmap.”

The last installment of the interview delves deeper into Sisi’s views on modern warfare, the geopolitical threats facing Egypt, the military operations in Sinai, as well as more personal facets of Sisi’s life.

For example, readers learn that Sisi grew up in the historic Hussein part of Al-Azhar. He also wanted to join the air force after graduating from military school.

He spoke at length about the military capacity of Egypt’s Armed Forces and the steps taken over the past decade to modernize its artillery and advance the capability of its manpower.

As talks of the US stalling military aid to Egypt grew late Tuesday, the interview reveals Sisi’s thoughts on the possibility of the American administration cutting off aid altogether.

Asked whether Egypt can forgo of US military aid, which Rizk described as a pressure tool, Sisi replied: “Military aid is stipulated in the peace treaty, which is based on a balance of power between parties,” adding that the US is keen on maintaining this aid.

The concern in the US stems from legal issues regarding how to describe what happened in Egypt since June 30 and former President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster, he explained.

In his view, it is being increasingly obviously that “what happened in Egypt was an outcome of popular will and that the military institution did not take power” through a coup.

The debate over how to label the events including the removal of Morsi from office and the appointment of an interim government has been brewing both at home and internationally for the past three months.

However, Sisi said, “The US are taking measures that are in line with the spirit of the law and dealing with the fact that what happened in Egypt was based on popular will.”

On that note, he expressed gratitude to those who he described as “friends in the US” who helped ensure the release of US$548 million in aid remaining in the budget for the year, despite the partial shutdown of the US federal government.

He described Egypt-US relations as “based on mutual interests, with the United States being the main pillar in the world order, and Egypt the main power in the region. It is also based on mutual respect and non-interference in internal affairs, so we reject talk of the use of pressure tools, either implicitly or explicitly.”

On the home front, Sisi was clear in his depiction of the threats facing Egypt as being part of the modern and global information war, as well as attributing these threats to the country’s strategic geopolitical position.

“The art of modern war is one of information,” he said. “We know we are at war, and unfortunately the information and views echoed by some is false, and not in the interests of the country.”

In this context, “the citizen turns into part of the problem instead of working to safeguard national security,” he added.

Expounding profusely on the way to combat these threats, Sisi’s main concern was what he sees as a dangerous state of general misinformation propagated by the media and people on a lager scale, even if unintentionally.

“Honestly, in my opinion, there has to be an integrated system that everyone is involved in, including the media, to raise people’s awareness of problems and to pump out the right information to citizens.”

Some of these lies and rumors aim to create chaos, he said, pointing to “those who want to portray the authorities as using unjustified force … and want to cement the idea that the authorities are the real enemy.”

On the ongoing Sinai military operations, which have been controversial in their impact on residents and communities in the area, Rizk asked Sisi whether there is some level of control over the area.

To this, he firmly responded, “Not ‘some level’ — there is control. However, I cannot say that it is full because there are [militant] elements in Arish particularly that live among the people.”

Sisi made it clear that there is little room to alter the roadmap drawn up when Morsi was removed.

With regard to demands that presidential elections take place before parliamentary elections, Sisi said, “At this precarious stage we need to move quickly to build state institutions and create the climate to restore stability.”

“To do so we must implement the roadmap,” he said, “around which there is national consensus, and to avoid anything that can stall it.”

And as a word of caution to political players, he added, “nationalism is not just talk,” advising political parties to put national interests above political gains or a larger share in parliament.

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