Last updated: 3 August, 2013

Egyptian army chief calls on US to pressure Islamists

Egypt’s army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has lashed out at the United States, urging Washington to do more to pressure the Muslim Brotherhood to end its rallies.

In a rare interview with the Washington Post, the commander — who led the military coup that ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi one month ago — warned of police action to disperse such protests.

The United States provides $1.5 billion in mostly military aid to Cairo every year, but al-Sisi effectively accused President Barack Obama’s administration of averting its gaze from Egypt.

“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?” Sisi said, according to excerpts of the Thursday interview published on Saturday.

“The US administration has a lot (of) leverage and influence with the Muslim Brotherhood and I’d really like the US administration to use this leverage with them to resolve the conflict,” he said.

When asked whether security forces would forcibly disperse the Brotherhood’s protest camps, Sisi said the task would not fall to the army.

“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,” he said.

“On the 26th of (July), more than 30 million people went out onto the streets to give me support. These people are waiting for me to do something.”

More than 250 people have been killed since Morsi’s overthrow, as clashes have broken out around two massive protest camps set up by his supporters.

The United States has been trying to head off a further escalation as Egypt’s interim government has warned the protesters to disperse or face consequences.

Sisi has meanwhile emerged as a hero among Morsi opponents, his face now staring down from the front pages of newspapers and street posters.

When asked whether he would seek the presidency, Sisi gave an enigmatic response.

“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,” he said.

When pressed on the question, he replied: “You just can’t believe that there are people who don’t aspire for authority.”

“It’s the hopes of the people that is ours. And when the people love you – this is the most important thing for me,” he said.

The army intervened amid massive protests against Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected leader, who won elections held a year after the 2011 overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, a former air force commander who ruled Egypt for three decades.

Sisi defended the decision to topple Morsi.

“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,” he told the Post.

“What I want you to know and I want the American reader also to know is that this is a free people who rebelled against an unjust political rule, and this free people needs your support.”