Sissi is widely considered the most powerful man in Egypt, wielding more control than anyone over the country’s direction after a tumultuous 21
2 years in which the military has shoved aside two presidents following popular uprisings. He denied interest in running for president but did not rule it out.
Although Sissi gives occasional speeches, he rarely sits down for interviews. But over the course of two hours in an ornate reception room in Cairo’s Defense Ministry on Thursday, he provided his most detailed explanation yet of why he decided to oust Morsi, the nation’s first democratically elected president. Sissi also expressed deep disappointment that the United States has not been more eager to embrace his rationale.
Sissi’s comments are a measure of just how thoroughly the Obama administration has alienated both sides in a profoundly polarized and unsettled Egypt, all while trying to remain neutral. Morsi’s supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood regularly accuse the United States of acquiescing to a military coup.
Sissi spoke on the same day that Secretary of State John F. 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 U.S. 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 cutoff of the $1.3 billion that the U.S. government sends to Egypt annually. Much of that aid goes to the military.
Since Morsi’s July 3 ouster, U.S. officials have cautioned Sissi and other generals to show restraint in their dealings with protesters, at least 140 of whom have been killed in clashes with security forces. The Obama administration has also encouraged the military to reconcile with the Muslim Brotherhood.
That prospect appears distant, with authorities promising a fresh crackdown on Islamist protests and Morsi continuing to be detained in an undisclosed location, unable to communicate with even his family.
Still, the furthest Washington has been willing to go in penalizing the military is to postpone the sale of four F-16 fighters. Most analysts say the delay is purely symbolic.
Sissi bristled at the move. “This is not the way to deal with a patriotic military,” he said.