Egypt's army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi sharply criticises United States

Military chief, in his first interview since the overthrow of president Mursi, warns that his country will not forget America's poor support

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2016, 12:45pm

In his first interview since the overthrow of president Mohammed Mursi last month, Egypt's commanding general sharply criticised the US response, accusing the Obama administration of disregarding the Egyptian popular will and of providing insufficient support amid threats of a civil war.

"You left the Egyptians. You turned your back on the Egyptians, and they won't forget that," said an indignant General Abdelfattah el-Sisi, speaking of the US government. "Now you want to continue turning your backs on Egyptians?"

Sisi is widely considered the most powerful man in Egypt, wielding more control than anyone over the country's direction after a tumultuous 2½ years in which the military has shoved aside two presidents following popular uprisings. He denied interest in running for president himself but did not rule it out.

Although Sisi gives occasional speeches, he rarely gives interviews. But late last week, he provided his most detailed explanation yet of why he decided to oust Mursi, the nation's first democratically elected president. Sisi's comments are a measure of just how thoroughly the Obama administration has alienated both sides in a profoundly polarised and unsettled Egypt, all while trying to remain neutral. Mursi's supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood regularly accuse the United States of acquiescing to a military coup.

Sisi spoke on the same day that US Secretary of State John Kerry made the administration's most supportive comments to date, saying that Egypt's army was "restoring democracy".

"The military was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people," Kerry said during a visit to Pakistan. "The military did not take over to the best of our judgment - so far."

The US government is required by law to halt non-humanitarian assistance when a democratically elected government is forced from office in a military coup. But the Obama administration appears determined to avoid using that term, and to prevent a cut-off kicking in of the US$1.3 billion that the US government sends to Egypt annually. Much of that aid goes to the military.

Still, the furthest Washington has been willing to go in penalising the military is to postpone the sale of four F-16 fighters. Most analysts say the delay is purely symbolic.

Like many pro-military Egyptians, Sisi appeared angry that the United States has not fully endorsed what he described as "a free people who rebelled against an unjust political rule".

The ties between Cairo and Washington however remain close, although Egypt has recently begun receiving far more aid from regional backers - including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates - and American influence in Egypt appears to be waning.

Sisi suggested that if the United States wants to avoid further bloodshed in Egypt, it should persuade the Muslim Brotherhood to back down from the Cairo sit-ins it has maintained since Mursi's July 3 departure.

Interim President Adly Mansour, who was appointed by Sisi, has announced a timetable for returning to democracy. It includes a referendum on a revised constitution, followed by parliamentary elections by early next year and then a presidential vote.

Asked if he intends to run for president, Sisi suggested he would not, saying he doesn't "aspire for authority". But when pressed, he stopped short of ruling out the possibility.

"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, before adding: "When the people love you, this is the most important thing for me."