By Tim Nanns
In lengthy interviews with US-based media outlets, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi emphasised the need for solid US-involvement in the Middle East.
In the interviews with newspaper Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and right-wing US television channel Fox News, Al-Sisi noted the importance of good US-Egyptian relations. He also pushed for Islamic moderation in order to counter religious extremism.
In his interview with the WSJ on Friday, Al-Sisi claimed Egypt was “keen on a strategic relationship with the US above everything else”. He disputed he was aiming for closer ties to Russia at the expense of Egypt-US relations, pushing the matter of the delay of arms shipments aside. He said the bilateral relationship cannot be reduced to “matters of weapon systems”.
Speaking to Fox News, he stated earlier in March that it “might take some time before there is a complete understating of what took place in Egypt”, as an answer to the lack of invitations from the White House compared to his recent visit to Russia.
Despite Al-Sisi’s criticism of Western intervention, he claimed: “The risks of extremism and terrorism weren’t clear in the minds of the US and Europe.”
He also advocated for a stronger US-involvement in the Middle East, as it is “not reasonable or acceptable that, with all that might, the United States will not be committed and have responsibilities toward the Middle East”. He reasoned that the Middle East was “passing through the most difficult and critical time […]”.
When questioned by WSJ journalist Bret Stephens about the lack of freedom since he took power, he complimented the US as being “at the top of progress: cultural, financial, political, civilizational”.
He disputed, however, that US standards could be applied to Egypt, stressing the need for security and order for “its [a country’s] mere existence”. Al-Sisi added that he would “let people demonstrate in the streets day and night” if the security situation in Egypt was not so dire and Egypt receives international support to revive its economy and stabilise its security. He also emphasised that “values of democracy and freedom […] need the atmosphere where those values can be nurtured”.
When turning to the matter of the ouster of Mohammed Morsi, Al-Sisi claimed on Fox News that it were “free and fair elections” that brought Morsi to power, but justified his overthrow with the lack of “the right to impeach a president” coupled with the will of the people to do so.
He also claimed that the Egyptian people had been attracted by the concept of political Islam but stating that it was “[over with] this sympathy” and the Egyptians had “changed completely their minds concerning these people”. He further told the WSJ that “the past three years have been a critical test to those people […]” and that the Egyptians said that “these people do not deserve sympathy and we will not allow it,” reiterating his earlier idea to “change a religious rhetoric and bring a shift to how people are used to their religion.”
Also on Friday, the Ministry of Religious Endowments released a statement announcing it would put all Islamic cultural institutes and preaching training centres under its control, starting next academic year. According to the ministry the move would not allow these institutions to be used “as a backdoor for extremism and terrorism”, with the goal to “root out militancy”.
This decision is in line with previous Awqaf decisions and moves by Al-Azhar to thwart religious extremism after Al-Sisi called for a “revolution” in the approach to religion.