CAIRO (Reuters) - Abdel Fattah al-Sisi,
the general who ousted an elected Islamist president and is set to
become Egypt's next head of state, called on the United States to help
fight jihadi terrorism to avoid the creation of new Afghanistans in the
In his first interview with an international news organization in
the run-up to the May 26-27 vote, Sisi called for the resumption of
U.S. military aid, worth $1.3 billion a year, which was partially
frozen after a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.
Asked what message he has for U.S. President Barack Obama, Sisi
said: "We are fighting a war against terrorism."
"The Egyptian army is undertaking major operations in the Sinai so
it is not transformed into a base for terrorism that will threaten
its neighbors and make Egypt unstable. If Egypt is unstable then the
entire region is unstable," said a quietly spoken Sisi, wearing a
dark civilian suit.
"We need American support to fight terrorism, we need American
equipment to use to combat terrorism."
He said neighboring Libya, which has descended into chaos following
the Western-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi, was
becoming a major security threat to Egypt with jihadis infiltrating
across the border to fight security forces.
Sisi said the West must understand that terrorism would reach its
doorstep unless it helped eradicate it.
"The West has to pay attention to what's going on in the world - the
map of extremism and its expansion. This map will reach you
inevitably," he said.
SYRIA NEW AFGHANISTAN?
In a sideswipe at Western policy on Syria, where U.S. and European
support for rebels fighting for three years to bring down President
Bashar al-Assad has seen a proliferation of jihadism and the
fragmentation of the country, Sisi stressed the
need to maintain the unity of Syria.
"Otherwise we will see another Afghanistan", he said. "I don't think
you want to create another Afghanistan in the region."
Islamists and the Egyptian state are old enemies. Militants
assassinated President Anwar al-Sadat in 1981 because of his Camp
David 1979 peace treaty with Israel. Ousted president Hosni Mubarak
also survived assassination attempts by jihadis.
Some of the world's most radical militants are Egyptian, including
al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri.
Sisi said the army was forced to intervene by a popular uprising
against the Brotherhood's partisan rule.
"The more time passes the more the vision gets clearer to everyone.
People and the world realize what happened in Egypt was the will of
all of the Egyptian people", said Sisi at a hotel partly owned by
"The army could not have abandoned its people or there would have
been a civil war and we don't know where that would have taken us.
We understand the American position. We hope that they understand
The Brotherhood was banned as a terrorist organization in December.
Former president Mohamed Mursi, ousted in July after mass protests,
is facing capital charges, while the group's spiritual guide,
Mohamed Badie, has been sentenced to death along with hundreds of
supporters among the Brothers.
The past nine months have also seen a rekindling of jihadi
insurgency in the lawless Sinai peninsula with numerous lethal
attacks on targets in Egypt's cities. Several hundred policemen and
soldiers were killed in attacks last year after the government
killed hundreds of Mursi's supporters in August in the bloodiest
crackdown in Egypt's modern history.
Sisi, treated as a savior in a personality cult that grew after his
overthrow of Mursi last July, says he is conscious of the challenges
facing Egypt after more than three years of turmoil since the
overthrow of Mubarak.
But he dismisses the idea of a U.S.-style 100 days policy blitz to
give Egyptians the bread, freedom, security and social justice they
"The truth is one hundred days is not enough. The challenges present
in Egypt are so many," Sisi said. "I believe that within two years
of serious, continuous work we can achieve the type of improvement
Egyptians are looking for."
Political turmoil and violence have hammered Egypt's economy, which
the government forecasts will grow only up to 2.5 percent in this
fiscal year. The Egyptian pound has hit record lows, weakened by the
absence of foreign investors and tourists.
"We have to admit that the economic situation in Egypt is difficult,
and not just over the last three years. Egyptians were aspiring to a
more stable life than the reality we are living in. More than 50
percent of the Egyptian people suffer from poverty. There is a lot
of unemployment," said Sisi.
Gulf states poured billions of dollars in aid into Egypt to prop up
the economy after Sisi toppled the Brotherhood. Sisi would not
predict when Egypt would no longer need that aid but said Egypt
needed to stand on its own feet.
"We don't see this as a good thing, frankly, and hope it ends as
soon as possible."
He said relations between Egypt and Israel, which have a peace
treaty together, have been stable for more than 30 years despite
"We respected it (the peace treaty) and we will respect it. The
Israeli people know this ... The question of whether we would be
committed to the peace treaty is over with," he said.
Egypt, which has mediated between Palestinians and Israelis, was
ready to help revive deadlocked peace talks.
"We need to see a
Palestinian state. We need to move on peace, which has been frozen
for many years. There will be a real chance for peace in the region.
We are ready to play any role that will achieve peace and security
in the region," he added.
ELECTION VICTORY SEEN
Sisi is expected to easily win the election this month. The only
other candidate is leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi.
If Sisi is elected president he will become the latest in a line of
Egyptian rulers drawn from the military since the army toppled the
monarchy in 1952 - a pattern briefly interrupted by Mursi's one year
Underscoring the military's longstanding hostility to the
Brotherhood, Sisi said the group had become irrelevant in Egyptian
society and ruled out any reconciliation with the oldest and most
powerful Islamist movement in the Middle East.
"They lost their connection with Egyptians," Sisi said, accusing
them of violence, which the group denies.
"Unjustified violence towards Egyptians made them not only lose
sympathy among Egyptians, but also meant they have no real chance of
reconciliation with society."
An Islamist insurgency has been growing since Mursi's overthrow.
Sisi says there have been two plots to kill him.
The world knew little of Sisi, Mubarak's head of military
intelligence, before he appeared on TV on July 3 to announce the
removal of Mursi after massive protests by those who accused him of
exceeding his powers and mismanaging the economy.
In a country where protests have helped oust two presidents in three
years, Sisi must deliver quick results, especially for the economy,
which suffers from a weak currency, high unemployment, a bloated
public sector and a widening budget deficit.
Aside from security cooperation with the West to fight Islamist
extremism, Sisi said Washington's aspiration to usher in democracy
to Egypt and elsewhere could be done through economic and
educational cooperation, by granting scholarships and creating
projects that could resolve youth unemployment.
"You want to create democracy in many countries. This is a good
thing but it won't succeed in the way it is needed except through
good economic support and proper support for education."
"Are you ready to open your countries for us for more education that
won't be expensive, to send the intelligent ones among our children
to be educated in your countries, to see and learn. This is a way of
developing and supporting democracy."
"Democracy is not only to educate the youth but to create an
appropriate atmosphere to make this democracy work. Are you ready
for this? Are you ready to provide opportunities in a country like
Egypt for people to work so that poverty eases?"
The 59-year-old field marshal also urged Western countries to ease
restrictions they imposed on Egyptian and other Arab students
following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States which
were carried out by al Qaeda members who were mostly Arabs.
"We will send ... our best youths to go and see and learn and return
to us with science and culture. We want the students who cannot pay
to get an excellent education so they become the society's elite and
can then lead it," said Sisi, who comes from a poor family but
studied in the U.S. and Britain as part of Egypt's military training
program with the West.
(Additional reporting by Samia Nakhoul, Michael Georgy and Yasmine
Saleh; Editing by Giles Elgood)