File photo: Egypt's Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seen during a news conference in Cairo on the release of seven members of the Egyptian security forces kidnapped by Islamist militants in Sinai, May 22, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
Egyptian Minister of Defence and army commander Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said in an interview with Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm that prior to the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, he attempted to resolve the political crisis up until the last minute.
In the first part of the interview, published on Monday, El-Sisi said he had advised the former president to be more inclusive. In the extended version, published Tuesday, he elaborated that he had recommended Morsi resolve outstanding issues with oppositional forces, the church, the religious Al-Azhar institution, the media, and the judiciary.
El-Sisi delivered the advice to Muslim Brotherhood leader Saad El-Katatni the day before one of the former president's last speeches, and says Morsi assured him - on the day of the speech – that he would follow through.
“The content of the speech contradicted what we agreed to with Morsi and El-Katatni,” El-Sisi said, with the exception of an apology Morsi made at the start, he added.
El-Sisi told Al-Masry Al-Youm that during Morsi's speech he thought to himself that they [the Brotherhood] are now threatening the people and Morsi chose to listen to the group’s Guidance Bureau rather than pursue the country’s well being.
The speech, addressed to the public on 26 June, featured Morsi defiant in the face of spiralling public anger, as seen in the Tamarod (Rebel) campaign that called for his overthrow on 30 June.
Days before the speech was aired, the army called for political reconciliation between the president and opposition before 30 June, warning it would not let the country descend into chaos and would stand by the will of the people.
Yelling at El-Shatter
El-Sisi said he met with the Brotherhood’s second man Khairat El-Shatter, who warned him that if Morsi were to leave, terrorists he wouldn't be able to control - some of whom he claimed he didn't know - would launch attacks across Egypt.
El-Sisi said El-Shatter’s words greatly disturbed him and he reacted by shouting: “What do you mean you either accept this or die, do you only want to rule us or kill us?”
He added that the 48-hour ultimatum given to the presidency on 1 July, in addition to the 1-week warning given before 30 June, was to provide every chance for reconciliation, which El-Sisi said would have been the best option.
“The mistakes the Brotherhood made lost them a large part of their popular base, and yet I was still hoping until the last moment that the crisis would end,” El-Sisi said, adding that he told Morsi before his ouster that the best solution would be a referendum on his position as president, which he refused.
Migrating to a safe place
The army commander said in the interview that, after Morsi’s 26 June speech, he was certain the Brotherhood saw the picture in a different light, but that he estimated protests would still be massive on 30 June.
El-Sisi said what happened on 30 June surpassed his expectations, saying that Egyptians moved to protect expressions of 'moderate' Islam [from more extreme interpretations], and to safeguard their futures.
“It was like they [Egyptians] were migrating from a dangerous place to a safe one; from one condition to another; from an existing reality to a hoped for Egyptian state,” he said.
The General said that following his 3 July statement announcing Morsi’s deposition and the transitional roadmap - agreed to by the opposition, Church and Al-Azhar, who were present at the announcement - he visited his mother who prayed for him.
Al-Masry Al-Youm said he recalled the prayer with tears in his eyes.
Asked about the reason why he called for mass support to give the army and police a “mandate” to fight terrorism, El-Sisi said the move came amid expected violence from Islamists, and it was necessary to give the police - broken since the January 2011 revolution - a push of confidence.
“We see people with bombs and weapons, and those carrying out explosions; we are arresting armed elements every day. Imagine how it would’ve been if the police were demoralised?” El-Sisi told Al-Masry Al-Youm.
“Reconciliation between the police and the people was a divine miracle,” he added.
El-Sisi also explained that another reason for garnering public support (millions took part in protests on 26 July in support of the army) was to express to the world the popular will for change in the face of other voices mobilising international powers and portraying events as a coup.
Insisting that what happened wasn’t a coup; El-Sisi said no coup parties seek dialogue with those they want to remove, referring to his talks and warnings with Morsi and the Brotherhood.
Violence in Rabaa
In the interview, El-Sisi also said: Despite the Egyptian state’s “keenness not to shed blood,” hundreds were killed during the dispersal of the main pro-Morsi sit-in at Cairo’s Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square, due to attacks on security forces from within the sit-in as they attempted to enforce a court order to clear the area, which “undoubtedly harboured arms.”
When asked how this made him feel, El-Sisi said: “Unfortunately Egyptian blood was spilt in the pursuit of power and the interests of a faction [the Brotherhood] that uses blood to feed its narrative of victimisation.”
He said that the Brotherhood and its allies were given 48 days to clear the sit-in, and that its continuation would have had “catastrophic effects” on Egyptian national interests, the freedom of the residents of the area where it was established, and the civil peace of Egyptian society.
El-Sisi said it [the Brotherhood] was attempting to turn Egypt into Syria, where a civil war between the regime and Islamist rebels is being waged.
“Honestly, we were afraid the losses would be greater than this … we told them please leave, but the other party didn’t want to listen or think,” adding that the sit-in dispersal was not a disregard for human life.
If the sit-in wasn’t dispersed, he said, the Egyptian state would have been dismantled.