CAIRO: Sky News Arabia’s Zeina Yazagy interviewed presidential candidate Abdel Fatah al-Sisi on Sunday on her television program “Besaraha.” Below is a transcript of the second part of the interview.
Zeina: Terrorism is a big problem in Egypt these days, and you are saying that you will confront it if you became the president. Which countries are supporting terrorism?
Sisi: At first we should describe the kind of terrorism we are facing in Egypt. I was once the director of military intelligence and at that time, the Sinai Peninsula was transforming into a place attractive for terrorists and extremists. When the army joined the people in the streets on January 28, 2011, we were focusing on Sinai because of the security vacuum caused by terrorists attacking police stations and security directorates, especially in the B and C areas along the 200 kilometer border with Israel, so military forces entered the B and C areas in Sinai to control the security situation.
People must know that the army was patient and gave enough time to former president Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood and any parties who communicated with the terrorists and extremists in Sinai to surrender their weapons. It is not a secret that the former president told us he wanted a period of time to deal with the situation in Sinai, but this period took the whole year he ruled the country, and the situation in Sinai was getting worse.
Zeina: May I interrupt please? The situation was getting worse in Sinai with the help of the Muslim Brotherhood?
Sisi: The whole atmosphere was encouraging. These people were saying that they supported Islam and they believed in the idea of transforming the society into an Islamic society, even through violence and killing.
Zeina: So you believe the Muslim Brotherhood secured an environment for terrorism?
Sisi: Sure, and if we don’t recognize these thoughts and ideologies are one of our major problems not only in Egypt, but in many other countries, we won’t be able to confront them the way we should. These ideologies are legislating violence, killing,sabotage and vandalism. I was concerned about this issue and it took me a lot of reading and research over more than thirty years to reach this conclusion, not just now because of the Muslim Brotherhood activities.
Back to Sinai, a lot of our soldiers were killed by these terrorists and we were patient and we tolerated these conditions for a long time, but at the end we had to address these groups. We have achieved good results so far, but there is still a lot of work to be done in Sinai and it is not only a matter of security, but the confrontation in Sinai is also an economic, social, ideological, information and security matter.
Zeina: Do you have specific development plans for Sinai?
Sisi: Yes, but not only Sinai, all the deprived areas in Egypt are included in the development plans. The Suez Canal axis, the whole Sinai Peninsula, Upper Egypt— all of these were neglected for a long time and this development plan is considered to be an immunization against terrorism.
Zeina: Will the army troops stay deployed in areas that do not comply with the peace agreement with Israel?
Sisi: Israel understands that these Egyptian troops are allocated in these areas only to secure the situation in Sinai, to prevent the peninsula from becoming a base for these terrorist groups and to prevent them carrying out attacks against Egypt and its neighbors. The state of peace is stable now and there are no worries about the allocation of some Egyptian troops in certain areas in Sinai.
Zeina: Do you call for an amendment of the Camp David agreement regarding the number of Egyptian troops in Sinai?
Sisi: We are doing what we want in Sinai now and our troops are there, I am talking seriously. If the situation in Sinai required amendment, I think Israel will not refuse because they now understand that they are dealing with a rational and fair country and a defensive army who is not against anyone except those who threaten its national security or the Arabic national security, and I said that before.
Zeina: Regarding Hamas, Egypt always support Palestinians and at the same time the Egyptian government disagrees with the ideology of the Hamas movement, so how are you going to deal with Hamas after their recent reconciliation with Fatah?
Sisi: The Egyptian stance on the Palestinian issue has been clear for 60 or 70 years. Egypt seeks a solution to the issue, a solution that satisfies the Palestinians and secures their children’s future in a stable country with the capital in Jerusalem.
We want a decisive solution to the Palestinian issue, without leaving any kind of gaps, so the people in the whole region live in peace and security.
Zeina: You mean the Palestinian capital should be in East Jerusalem?
Sisi: Yes, and there is a real chance for peace now as I said before, and all parties should seize this opportunity, and Egypt will be working in this direction.
Zeina: How are you going to deal with a Palestinian government with Hamas part of it?
Sisi: Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) is the president of the Palestinian Authority, with which we will be working with to solve the Palestinian issue, in case there is an opportunity for that.
Zeina: But there are logistical matters with Gaza Strip ruled by Hamas I still don’t understand. You are not willing to deal directly with Hamas? It will only be through the Palestinian Authority and President Abu Mazen?
Sisi: Our border with the Gaza Strip is 14 kilometers long with two crossings and another four crossings with Israel. According to the laws organizing traffic through the borders, any kind of supplies or goods passing from Egypt to Gaza are going through Karm Abu Salem crossing, while traffic for individuals is through the Rafah crossing, and there are no problems with that.
In the last period, Hamas built a negative public opinion among the Egyptian people who were always sympathetic with Hamas and its cause, and I advise Hamas and others to catch up with Egyptians before they totally lose their sympathy, which reached its lowest level ever in the last period.
They tend to impose negative public opinion against them in a way that leads to letting them lose anyone’s sympathy for them, and they had Egypt’s sympathy before. The advice now is that the Muslim Brotherhood needs to start changing what they do. This also includes those who support them in order to try to be able to regain people’s sympathy for them, as they should consider that people’s sympathy for them is at its lowest point. Things they do must be stopped and if everything is to be restored, they really need to do so.
Zeina: Regarding the peace process, Egypt has always had a major role in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Today we can see that it has reached a dead end. Is this the end of the road? Will Egypt try to revive the peace process?
Sisi: We have to take advantage of opportunities and work towards the establishment of peace in the Middle East, especially regarding the Palestinian issue. The slightest hope of positive achievements will benefit us all.
Zeina: What does Sisi’s Egypt have to offer the peace process?
Sisi: Everything that Egypt used to offer for the peace process. It will offer its efforts and its communications by coordinating different stances and bringing together different views.
Zeina: Do you have a personal vision for the peace process, for Egypt’s role?
Sisi: The advice that can really be offered is that there is a real chance for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. This can truly open the doors for more stability in the whole region and that could be the beginning of openness in relations. We should not forget Saudi Arabia’s earlier initiative that was approved by all Arab countries.
Zeina: The Arab Initiative?
Sisi: Exactly, the Arab Initiative. I want to say that there is a chance. Others have to realize that there still is a chance. This chance is for all of us.
Zeina: When we started this interview, and you talked to me about your electoral program, you told me that it relies on three elements: the Egyptians, national funds and aid from Arab and foreign countries. This leads us to talk about Arab-Arab relations. To be specific, let me talk about Egypt-Arab relations. You received aid from specific countries, for example Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait. Are we now witnessing the formation of a new alliance between Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE?
Sisi: And Kuwait.
Zeina: And Kuwait, of course.
Sisi: Egypt is very keen on keeping relations with all Arab countries. We have been part of that entity for thousands of years. Arab national security is as important for us as Egypt’s national security. I do not want to say that Arab national security is compromised. I also do not want to say that we are at our weakest point. To be more specific, we are not at our best condition. Egypt has to stand side-by-side with its Arab brothers. Our presence side-by-side with each other is the only guarantee that we can care for each other and protect one another. This is very important. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait need to stay that way at all times, this also includes the rest of the Arab countries, Jordan as well, Bahrain, the Kingdom of Oman… it is also important to mention the North Africa region—our brothers in Algeria.
Zeina: What are the standards for this alliance?
Sisi: The standards are present, we just have to be together and stand by each other, all of us. Our standards are there. Our ability to unite can do important things for Arab national security and I do not want to go into this particular subject’s details. I just want to say that for example, imagine that we want to carry out joint training with our brothers in Saudi Arabia or in Kuwait. Imagine the amount of power resulting from this, and I’m just saying joint training, I did not mention more. The amount of power from joint training is extremely massive, a power that can protect us and give us the immunity we need to protect ourselves, our countries and our people. We, not being united, empower others.
Zeina: Iran, Turkey and Israel, who do you think is the most dangerous?
Sisi: I refuse to mention specific names.
Zeina: I am the one mentioning names.
Sisi: I know. And yes, our not being united is the main reason behind our weakness. We have to be united. Our being united does not mean that we will eliminate others. Everybody can keep living. I’m not saying that our power will be used to attack others; I’m saying that our power is to protect us, allow us to protect our interests and our people’s interests.
Zeina: So does this mean that they are strong because of our weakness?
Zeina: Only because of that?
Zeina: So what will Egypt do if any Arab country is threatened?
Sisi: I always say that threatening any Arab country… Look,Egypt’s army is a great patriotic power, and let me emphasize that it really is a strong army. It is also a sane power that protects and does not threaten. However, let me be clear, it would only take the Egyptian army the time needed to traverse the distance to the destination of aggression to arrive there with expediency.
Zeina: The time to the destination of aggression to arrive there?
Sisi: Yes, this is true. You can calculate the distance and time to reach the spot where there is a threat and you can be sure that we will be there defending. No Arab can be threatened while we are here, this will never happen.
Zeina: Egypt is returning to its leading role in the Arab world?
Sisi: Egypt is reunited with its brothers. Its brothers are back with her again, we are now together.
Zeina: But there is another model. This was clear when I asked you about the Arab aid to Egypt. The aid was not just composed of money. We can see solid projects and developmental strategies. What are your plans to use this new model to benefit Egypt?
Sisi: I just want to make it clear that there is a good investment environment, and by this I do not mean national investment alone, I am talking about Arabic investment as well. It is really important for us to be aware of this and to make it clear that investment is open to Egyptians and their Arab brothers. They will be able to find real investment opportunities. Investment is also open to foreigners.
Let me say it clearly, investment in Egypt is not exclusive to Egyptians. It is available to Egyptians, Arabs and foreigners. This is because the country really needs a lot of investment and it needs hard work, and it has real investment opportunities. The aid I am talking about is about the realization of our Arab brothers that the size of challenges inside Egypt is very big and that we have to go back to being a capable and strong Arabic block that can secure its Arabic surroundings and its national security. This concept has been very clear within the last three to four years. The problem is now very clear, Egypt’s problem is now clear, and it is normal that when all points we previously mentioned come together, all problems should come to an end.
Zeina: But there is tension in some relations, for example, Egypt’s relationship with Qatar is somehow tense, will this continue?
Sisi: Ask them, not us.
Zeina: As soon as I see them, I will. So as I understand, you will not initiate ending the conflict with Qatar?
Sisi: Is it us who started this conflict? Who started it? We did not start any conflict with anyone. But it is really important for others not to start conflicts with us. We respect others, do not interfere in others’ business and it is also very important for others to respect us and not to interfere in our internal affairs. I do not want to say that “you will not be able to interfere.” Let me be clear, no one will ever be allowed to interfere in Egypt’s affairs ever again, this will never happen. It is best for everyone to mind their own business.
Sisi: With the people, you will find no problem, honestly, but the question here is “are others well aware of what happens here in Egypt?” Fairness would impose the fact that the people’s will is to be respected. I also realize that if we had not moved to protect the people’s will, there would have been a huge problem in Egypt. Who do you think could have protected the country and could have protected people from each other? If we had not done what we did we would have led people to feel very depressed and frustrated and that could lead them to be violent. When people become violent they will face violence, and then what?
Zeina: Egypt’s relationship with Turkey is tense, is this going to continue—please answer with a yes or no—and will you work on making relations better?
Sisi: Do you mean that I should be the one working to make it better, or them? I’m serious, who should be the one trying to fix everything? Who started this? To be clear, no one will ever be able to interfere with Egypt’s affairs.
Zeina: Was it a conflict between Egypt and Turkey to lead the Islamic world?
Sisi: Let me ask you a question. Where is the Islamic world you are talking about?
Zeina: And what about the regional influence?
Sisi: We have bigger problems now. Bigger than what we are talking about. We do not know how to get along and we do not know how to have differences.
Zeina: In comparison with your relationship with Turkey, how will our relationship with Iran be?
Sisi: I previously said that we have no problem with people, and I said before the security of people in Kuwait and the Gulf countries is really important for Egypt, and as long as Gulf people remain secure and unthreatened, we will have no problem with Iran. As long as there is no compromise over Arab national security we will have no problems with others.
Zeina: What is your true stance regarding Syria?
Sisi: We are keeping our eyes on the negative developments of the Syrian problem because we know that if we lose Syria it will not come back, and we have many precedents for this.
Zeina: Do you not think we’ve already lost Syria?
Sisi: Yes, but there has to be a peaceful solution, as the number of terrorist elements there created an attractive location for extremism and terrorism, and this solution must not be at the expense of Syrian unity.
Zeina: Would you push Egypt towards a new Arab stance aimed at reaching a political solution to the crisis in Syria?
Sisi: We should do that, but inside closed rooms. I answer you now as an Egyptian citizen.
Zeina: Nowadays, Israel is an ally of the United States. Turkey and Iran gravitate towards the Russian sphere. Where would Egypt stand if headed by Sisi on the international map?
Sisi: This question reminds me of the Cold War, which does not exist now.
Zeina: But many people are saying now that there are signs of another cold war.
Sisi: International relations now have passed the duality of the Cold War and Egypt has strong military ties with Russia from a long time ago.
Zeina: There are no relationships without a cost and relations often come with a political price, what would happen if political choices did not match Egypt’s stance?
Sisi: This does not always happen, as long as Egypt’s stance is clear and it has no particular fight with any country, and this in turn pushes Egypt not to have any enmity with any government. It is not necessary for our relationship with the United States to be at the expense of our relationship with Russia and vice versa, it is not required for our relationship with Russia to be at the expense of our relationship with the United States.
Zeina: Does your visit to Russia “amid fluctuated relations with the U.S.” mean something?
Sisi: The unstable situation in Egypt is causing a lot of misinterpretation of events and of the other’s intentions.
Zeina: Did this misinterpretation benefit Egypt in the sense that the United States understood that it needed to immediately put an end to the conflict with Egypt?
Sisi: The U.S. administration did not take the time to reflect on the major shifts that occurred in Egypt on June 30 and July 3. U.S. foreign policy does not support or provide aid to countries where democratically elected regimes are ousted. However, what they failed to understand is that the Egyptian people do not have the proper means to deal with a crisis within democracy. The only thing they can do is take to the streets.
Zeina: Does the new constitution provide those means?
Sisi: Indeed, the issue has been resolved. Now there is a way out, but back on June 30, there were no options besides people fighting each other.
Zeina: And what is the way out?
Sisi: The constitution and the law provide a solution that would not require us to escalate the problems.
Zeina: Can the constitutional court isolate the president?
Sisi: It is not only the job of the constitutional court, there is also the parliament.
Zeina: We are experiencing historical moments, speaking of a new Middle East, intended chaos, the reestablishment of all the states we know. Some say there will be doctrinal or national conflicts, others say the conflicts will be about water, petroleum and gas and energy resources. In your opinion, what will be the source of conflict in the region?
Sisi: I believe conflict will erupt if we do not set the basis for dialogue about our mutual interests. For instance, take the issue of water and the ongoing debate on the Renaissance Dam. While tackling the issue, it is very important to bear in mind that our relations with Ethiopia must remain positive, as well as with the Nile basin countries and Africa, which was not the course taken during past years. Based on the trust that exists between Egypt and its Arab and African friends, they must understand that we will not pursue our interests and neglect theirs. Ethiopia is a heavily populated country and wants to achieve growth and development and we understand this. We do not oppose that, on the contrary, we are ready to cooperate with them. On the other hand, I believe they should also understand that water for Egypt is not a luxury, it is a matter of life or death and there are no alternatives. As much as we are keen on their prosperity, they must be keen on the lives of the Egyptian people. There must be a solution.
Zeina: Mystery surrounded the Egyptian attitude towards the Renaissance Dam. Why was that? Was it insufficiency, negligence, lack of awareness or knowledge? Are there hidden agendas? Some people do not seem to perceive it as a real threat to Egypt.
Sisi: The threat comes from the reservoir’s filling level and the time required to fill it, in addition to the side effects that will result. The issue needs more technical study to ensure that this big project will be successful and that its effects are not damaging to Nile basin countries, or at least to Egypt and Sudan. The more time is spent to fill the reservoir, the less negative impact it has on Egypt and vice versa. This must be transcribed into an agreement. If both parties agree to protect their common interests, they can be committed to do so.
Zeina: Egypt is facing problems on its borders; they are out of control. There seems to be a pull between Algeria and Libya, and The Free Egyptian Army in Libya. There are fears and questions about which party is a terrorist threat to the other. How will you handle this issue?
Sisi: Because you mentioned Algeria, I repeat what I said: I have not spoken about negative relations with any country, particularly Algeria. We must pay utmost attention to the fact that there will be attempts to incite disturbances between countries. I need to clarify that we respect Algeria and the Algerian people; we respect the state of Algeria, government and people.
Zeina: So what Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is saying is that what was communicated about him, that he threatened to attack Algeria within hours is not true?
Sisi: Of course it is not true. Why would I make such statements?
Zeina: What about Libya?
Sisi: We are aware of the problems in Libya and we know that its capacity to secure its borders with Egypt is related to the security situation inside Libya, and this is why we are pooling efforts to secure our borders, which extend from the sea to more than 1,200 kilometers inland. It is a big load on us, but we have been shouldering it since before June 30, by around five or six months. I see that there must be joint-Arab efforts so that we are safe from having terrorism and violence in our territories, not only Egypt. Stability must be restored in the region.
Zeina: If you were to speak three magic words to bring back stability to all of our territories, what would you say?
Sisi: We must be united. We must move together. There should not be clashes in our policies because we are all targeting the same interests.
Zeina: Do you believe that the Arab League is still the suitable body to ensure that collective movement?
Sisi: Its role is necessary and should be stronger than before. We currently have the proper means to achieve our interests, and we need to support and develop the Arab League.
Zeina: Is there a general Arab will to do so?
Sisi: This needs a lot of work.
Zeina: What about the disagreements with Sudan?
Sisi: Every conflict has a solution. Libya and Sudan are Egypt’s neighbors and we are eager to maintain good ties with both. We do not have motives to prevent negotiations and working towards fostering better relationships. Dialogue creates a sphere for positive work.
Zeina: Is the conflict with Sudan about Halayeb and Shalateen? Is there a solution?
Sisi: Halayeb and Shalateen are Egyptian and there is no conflict about that, unless somebody wants to make a conflict.
Zeina: Are you referring to Sudan?
Sisi: No, not at all. We do not create problems with anybody and we hope that others will not have problems with us.
Zeina: Who are Sisi’s Egyptian friends, in case you are elected president?
Sisi: Those whom I appreciate. There was a major role that we must record, remember and discuss. Saudi Arabia’s stances led by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz in facing the pressure put on Egypt in July, and let’s not forget the famous statement that was issued; it was firm, decisive and conclusive. It was a turning point between two phases.
Zeina: Pressure by whom?
Sisi: Remember when [bin Abdul Aziz] said that Saudi Arabia will strongly support Egypt in facing any pressure or threat? This is a similar situation to that of 1973, a historical moment that changed the equation and helped in achieving stability with minimum costs. Also, in the UAE, and I have to say the sons of Sheikh Zayed[pause: hand gesture that means noble], as well as Sheikh Khalifa, his brothers, Sheikh Mohamed—there are a lot of things that people do not know about. The least I can say about the UAE is I pray that God bless their country. What they did expresses greatness, patriotism and Arabism. The same applies for Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain, Oman and all Arab countries. The Egyptians appreciate and do not forget, and this sentiment is shared by the simple citizen in the street. This is why I don’t speak of Abdel Fatah’s friends, they are Egypt’s friends.
Zeina: What does the following mean to you: the war of 1967?
Sisi: The loss of the Egyptian dream. The beginning of the Egyptian dream started with the bombing of 1967…
Zeina: and the Arab [dream] as well?
Sisi: …well, let me talk about Egypt only.
Zeina: And 1973?
Sisi: Recovering a part of what was lost.
Zeina: January 25 Revolution?
Sisi: The launching of a coming real change, Egypt will bear witness.
Zeina: June 30?
Sisi: The completion of the change map.
Zeina: The revolutionary youth?
Sisi: They must know they are appreciated, not only by me, but how can I deliver this message to them frankly? How canyoubelieve that your role and what you have done for your country will be forgotten? Whoever denies it is ungrateful, but we face difficult conditions. Do appreciate that, you made changes. Stay with Egypt now and in the future because you are Egypt’s future and your sons’ future. I always say that what rules any person is his conviction and constants. My conviction and constants towards you are respect, appreciation and the desire for you to participate and to be ready to be future leaders.
Zeina: Are [the revolutionary youth] going to be part of your political formations later?
Sisi: No, look, I will just remind them of what I said. Before the parliamentary elections, we told them come and make parties and we will help you and I am responsible for what I am saying because I used to say it and it was guidance from the army. Why did I say that? To make sure they had a role in making a political balance within Egypt’s map.
Zeina: Would you eye any of the revolutionary youth to be a minister in your government if you win the presidency?
Sisi: I am looking for more than that; I want them to be present with the governors and ministers. If I am the president, they will be with me personally. I need them, I need their enthusiasm, their purity, and Egypt will benefit from them.
Zeina: What do you say about the Egyptian Armed Forces?
Sisi: Egypt’s shield. As long as the army is present and okay, Egypt is fine.
Zeina: The presidential chair?
Sisi: In Egypt, it is a chair of fire.
Zeina: Chair of fire?
Sisi: Fire, not a presidential chair.
Zeina: I will leave you, hope to see you again, and I hope that the chair is warm and not incendiary. Good luck to anyone who will sit on the presidential chair, because Egypt is certainly in the heart of all Arabs. Thank you Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
Sisi: Thank you so much.
Translated by Sherif Magdy, Randa El-Banna, Aya Ibrahim, Amira El-Fekki and Sara Osama Shoureap