Supporters of Egyptian Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi rally at Tahrir Square… (Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty…)
The following are excerpts from Washington Post senior associate editor Lally Weymouth’s Aug. 1 interview with Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, Egypt’s defense minister, armed forces commander and deputy prime minister.
Sissi: 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?
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.
Was this before the constitution?
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].
So you were giving the president advice on Ethiopia and the Sinai, for example, and he was ignoring you?
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.
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.
But not from other countries?
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.
Reportedly, he made it available for people to come from Afghanistan and to go to the Sinai, is that true?
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.
Did they have contacts with other Islamic groups in other countries?
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.
You hear 30 percent or so in the U.S.