Ex-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was uncompromising in his first television interview since announcing his run for Egypt’s presidency, insisting the Islamist movement of the elected leader he ousted was “finished”.
Sisi, who is expected to trounce his sole opponent in the May 26-27 election, made no attempt in the interview’s first part aired late Monday to reach out to critics of his overthrow of Egypt’s only freely elected president Mohamed Morsi last July.
Instead he appealed for the support of the millions of opponents of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood who protested in the days running up to his ouster, insisting that it was they, and not he, who had finished the Brotherhood as a political force.
“I did not finish it, you Egyptians finished it,” Sisi said.
The Brotherhood was Egypt’s best-organised political force for decades even though it has been banned for most of the time since its foundation in 1928, and Sisi has faced Western calls to reach out to its supporters.
But challenged whether he meant the Brotherhood would no longer exist under his presidency, Sisi answered: “Yes,” rejecting any idea it might have a place in the political future.
James Dorsey, Middle East Expert with Singapore-based S. Rajaratinam School of International Studies, said “he has taken a hardline position by ruling out any possible reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Obviously he catered to his power base which supports him… there is no doubt that he is extremely popular among a large section of the population.”
Nearly all of the Brotherhood’s top leaders are in custody, among thousands of Morsi supporters who have been put on trial, resulting in hundreds of summary death sentences that have drawn international criticism.
But Sisi was unrepentant about the crackdown and the tight restrictions on protests that have angered some of the key leaders of the Arab Spring uprising that toppled veteran president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Last month, an Egyptian court even banned the April 6 youth movement, which had spearheaded the revolt.
And Sisi’s only rival for the presidency, veteran leftist leader Hamdeen Sabbahi, has raised concern that Egypt is returning to the autocratic practices of the Mubarak era.
But Sisi insisted a controversial law adopted in November by the interim government he installed had been vital in restoring stability.
“We won’t be able to meet challenges in Egypt today amid this state of chaos… and one of the tools to (tackle this chaos) was the protest law,” Sisi said.
‘Accept me as I am or don’t’ –
“He (Sisi) wants to consolidate his supporters and not win opponents,” said Nevine Massaad, political science professor at Cairo University.
“He is saying ‘you accept me as I am or don’t’. He will not win over any of his opponents by making it clear he would do anything to achieve security,” she said.
As the government Sisi installed has cracked down on persistent protests by Morsi’s supporters resulting in clashes in which Amnesty International says more than 1,400 people have been killed, attacks by hardline Islamists, some inspired by Al-Qaeda, have multiplied.
But Sisi played to the security credentials and strongman image that have endeared him to the many Egyptians weary of the turmoil and the damage it has done to the economy and its vital tourism sector.
Asked by the interviewer whether he had ever been the target of any assassination attempts — Mubarak famously survived 10 — Sisi confided, without giving any details, that he had survived “two.”
Cairo University politics professor Mustapha Kamel Al-Sayyid said: “What we saw yesterday was a firm leader who knows what he wants and who will work very hard to get what he wants.
“All the policies that were adopted since July 3 will continue. Nothing will change. He did not give an impression that he is a people’s man.”