CAIRO: Sky News Arabia’s Zeina Yazagy interviewed presidential candidate Abdel Fatah al-Sisi on Sunday on her TV program “Besaraha.” Below is a transcript of the interview.
Zeina: You are now facing a huge challenge, a challenge to save the Egyptian state after a lot of changes in its governance system and a challenge to achieve its age-old dream to develop the country and live a prosperous life due to economic revival. Do you see your popularity among Egyptians only as an entrance to your electoral program or you will rely on achievement of goals?
Sisi: It is very important to mention that Egyptians have been patient for so long and are looking up to witness a true accomplishment. You asked me about what I would do, and allow me to say that “We” can do it, not only me. It is also very important to realize the size of the challenges facing us and to also realize that there will be no true achievement without all Egyptians working together. Egyptians have to work hard together to accomplish the result they aim for. Let me say it in a simple way, we are addressing security, settlement and real development.
The Egyptian citizen in the past three to four years feels that he is not as secure as he used to be, which is true. We are talking about terrorism that is one element that people are uncomfortable towards, the second part is about the so-called “criminal security” this includes people moving on the streets, people feeling safe letting their children, their daughters walk safely on the street which has also become not as secure as it used to be, let me tell you why this happened. The state of revolution that we live in has negatively affected state institutions and prevented them from doing their jobs properly. This includes the administrative body of state which is obviously not working very well as the first reason. The second reason is the police, as it is considered to be the authorized body to preserve security inside Egypt. We have to admit that police suffered a major crisis on the start of January 25. It needed to work as fast as it could to regain its position and ability.
If we talk about Egypt’s state of security I can tell you that Egypt ranked the second in the list of countries that do not have organized crime, within the last four years Egypt ranked 132 in the same list.
Zeina: So it changed from being one of the safest countries across the world due to absence of organized crime to be the 132nd country in the list of countries having organized crime!
Sisi: This is a very disturbing.
Zeina: And the reason behind this is?
Sisi: As I said before, Egypt lives in a state of revolution. For example, 68 percent of criminals who committed felonies are not caught; about 37 to 40 percent of criminals of misdemeanors are also not caught. This indicates that the state of security is not as it used to be but we as Egyptians will do our best to gain the best results.
Also the state of revolution includes two parts, the first part is the protesting and expressing one’s opinion and this state cannot be rejected. We are not against it and we accept it, we only need to organize it, and let me tell you why. In order to achieve people’s demands, and here I mean all people, here who want to regain security. Again, this can only be achieved if we organize our whole lives, this includes our way of expressing our opinions. I can say about the protest law that has been a controversy is a law organizing, and not preventing. Also, if people are talking about giving police the chance to fight terrorism and adjust security inside the state, let them consider that a body like the police works very hard to fight terrorism and follow up criminal elements planning terrorist attacks in addition to pursuing criminals and outlaws.
Let me explain in percentages: we are in a country of population of about 90 million citizens, if we imagine that one out of every 1000 citizens is an outlaw this will give us 90,000 criminals. Imagine what these can do to citizens. And let me ask a question, can the state afford putting that great number of criminals in prisons; if we decide to put them in prison do we have enough prisons for them? If we have enough prisons for them can we pay for their imprisonment or not? So we need to give police the chance to start operating first. It should be allowed to work with its available facilities and we should work together to improve the situations where police would operate. If we organize our lives, organizing includes the right to protest.
Zeina: Allow me to interrupt you and try to give you viewer’s concerns; people are really concerned over security which could lead to restricting freedoms of people, so how can you as a presidential candidate create balance between security, which is an important demand, and freedoms of Egypt after two revolutions?
Sisi: Allow me to tell you that this is related to the one in charge, does he respect freedoms? Does he like freedoms? Does he want to develop it? Or is he against it? I believe that this is something that all of us should be aware of. There is a true respect for people’s freedoms and will, we want to develop it and we want people to feel that change. We want people to feel that they live freely and practice their right of freedom freely. Also I hope that this state of freedom would not lead us to a state of chaos that could harm the state that is truly what I fear.
Let me display some points discussed with many politicians, elites and political powers during the past three years. While I was a director of intelligence I used to meet with all powers. I always said that we must think on many levels, these include thinking politically, socially, economically, as well as about security. When we put all the previous factors together we will be able to see the complete picture without only focusing and depending on the political level.
Let me tell you my proof for this, we can meet any citizen on the street and talk to him and we will find that he cares about freedom, politics but also he has other interests. That is why we need to have complementary interests. This should include other interests such as social interests, economic interests, media interests and even religious interests. All of these interests form a different blend which we should understand and think about. This means that we need to support the role of the law and back policemen and officers who worked for several years to restore the regular state of security. All the policemen’s administrative and technical demands should be provided to raise the level of security. For the Egyptian judiciary, we should not comment on its verdicts to protect and support the independence of the judiciary. By these ways we can control the security of the country, especially if media helps us in developing our awareness of the challenges of the future. This leads us to the approach of development…
Zeina: Sorry for interrupting, but before we talk about the development, I want to ask you about the judiciary as the recent verdicts in some cases associated with Muslim Brotherhood members and those who participated in the January 25 Revolution, and the protests of June 30 have raised controversy about the nature of the coming regime in Egypt, whether it only is concerned about the security state, and will neglect freedoms?
Sisi: This kind of questions doubt the independence and fairness of our judiciary, as it is not related at all with the tendency of the country towards the issues of security and freedoms. The judiciary deals with cases according to its own views and understanding, and we are not eligible to comment on its verdicts, if we want to achieve the power of law and restore the authority of the state.
Zeina: The development of Egypt is the big achievable dream according to your platform, how will you achieve this dream especially as the previous leaders failed in this issue?
Sisi: I can offer two new things. The first step is my ability to mobilize Egyptians to confront their problems and overcome them. The second thing is to face our issues decisively as we need to be aware of the actual problem. I described it as the unification of Egyptians to understand the problem, then the unification to overcome it. Three major patterns are believed to achieve the dream of Egyptians. The mobilization of Egyptians is not easy and we had several experiences in this field but first we should know the real size of the problem. We met a number of thinkers, investors, journalists, and young investors to show them the country’s challenges and the suggested solutions for them and it is normally that everyone cares about his own business, what really happens now is presenting the whole country’s issues in front of all the people. We always do that in closed meeting and even in the public conferences, many people disagree with me about that way…
Zeina: They mean that you should freak people out?
Sisi: No, they mean that I should make sweet promises and they are right about that but it is also important to be well aware of the big problem we are facing and I believe we are able to overcome it. People have to be aware of the importance of the small things, I’m talking about such as changing the use of lamps from high consuming lamps to power saving lamps, saving water in addition to other things.
Zeina: Mr. Field Marshal Egyptians like the idea but…
Sisi: Let me tell you something…
Zeina: Citizens wonder if one exchanges a lamp at my house would that make a difference and save Egypt’s economy?
Sisi: We did not claim such thing; we were talking about the energy crisis and we were saying that this summer will witness a crisis as a result of our use of larger amount of energy due to the rise in temperature of the weather, and that is true. Although there is no chance for us to establish power plants now, in the mean time we can solve the crisis though science, not plain talk. A single lamp is as simple as one person, but if you imagine millions of lamps I think that would make a difference, also if you consider uniting millions of people the result will be totally different. Regarding the point you were talking about, I think we have not yet worked with people on that yet, people started changing their attitude out of patriotism and changed the high energy consuming lamps for energy saving lamps, and this is according to companies that sell these lamps, as they said that they sold a huge amount of these lamps lately. Many things that resemble the lamp issue can be made and result in rationing. Rationing is not limited to citizens only, and here I mean rationing in ministries and state. If I start talking about it I would go on and on where we can determine the maximum limit for rationing our spending. I’m now talking about achieving that limit of rationing our spending in state at first and then we can ask people to ration too, this depends on the person’s position, his readiness for rationing, his love for his country, and his ability to do so.
Zeina: His capability and awareness?
Sisi: Exactly. Here is a lot to talk about in mobilizing energy. Even investors can participate in this. For example, when we speak with investors we should ask them not to put their profit reaching a certain percentage in the first priority during this critical phase, investors should consider hiring young unemployed people; many youth want to be productive and want to live.
Zeina: And unemployment is a very big problem and everyone is asking about it.
Sisi: A huge problem in Egypt, yes, and we have to eliminate this problem.
Zeina: But Mr. Field Marshal we are today talking about improving society’s conditions and the national economy does this include specific laws you mean or are we talking about wishes and dreams?
Sisi: If the whole thing requires laws to regulate such matters we will adopt laws to do so. But in my opinion, we have enough laws and the important thing is to apply these laws in reality. We Egyptians need to respect the law and here I mean all laws, not just a specific type of laws. For example, we have a pile of anti-corruption laws but is it enough? Or are there other mechanisms that need to be activated in order to prevent corruption and eliminate it? Also let me make it clear that part of corruption is based on the state of need that we have. If we eliminate that state of need we will be able to eliminate corruption totally, and here I mean that we would be able to reach reasonable worldwide percentages of corruption because corruption cannot be totally eliminated.
Zeina: So let me get this clear, you are saying that people’s need due to bad economic situations caused corruption and not the other way around, is that what you mean? Do you mean that corruption is not a major problem?
Sisi: I did not mean that corruption is not a major problem, but it is not the main reason for the state of need we are involved in, it is part of the economic problem, but it is not the main reason behind it. This problem has amplified throughout many years, and I’m here not talking about one or five or ten years, I’m talking about many years. Let me tell you this, imagine that before the January 25 Revolution the percentage of poverty in Egypt was 21 percent, within three or four years the percentage has reached 26 percent. This indicates that we are now talking about 25 million citizens.
Zeina: Under the poverty line?
Sisi: Exactly, there are 25 million citizens are under the poverty line in Egypt.
Zeina: Egypt’s economic main problem in your opinion is?
Sisi: We have a huge domestic and external debt, this results in imposing a huge burden over the state’s general budget. This is because the debt’s installments and interest are huge, the interests alone are 200 billion EGP ($28.3 billion), and this number does not include the debt itself, if we want to pay the debt in addition to the interest the number will be a lot bigger than I previously mentioned.
Zeina: You are now talking about paying and serving the debt only?
Sisi: Absolutely, and if we want to finish this debt so that we would not leave a burden to the next generations we will need a lot of effort to do so, this is one point. The second point is subsidy, regardless of subsidy reaching those who deserve it, we do have another 200 billion EGP as subsidies. Rich people are the ones who benefit the most from this subsidy.
Zeina: And this is due to defects in laws and regulations or due to favoritism and corruption?
Sisi: Absolutely not, this is just realty.
Zeina: So where is the defect?
Sisi: Rationing is a must in this particular matter, let me explain this with an example, fuel is one thing that is subsidized and a rich person who has a car with more than 2000 CC gets a subsidy according to their use of the car, this can reach 3,000 EGP per month. Rich people take from state while the state needs to take from them to give those in need.
Zeina: So are you considering taking the subsidy off from fuel?
Sisi: That is why I’m talking about rationing and saying that subsidies must be organized because a lot of subsidies go to those who do not need, and here I’m talking about fuel for a car, if we put in consideration that this rich person has three to four cars imagine how much money he gets. Also energy, and what do I mean by energy? At home or at a villa a rich person can get 4,000 EGP per month because of his electricity consumption while they use electricity in heating their swimming pool and things like that.
Zeina: You mean costly luxury?
Sisi: No, I do not mean that, anybody has the right to live in luxury…
Zeina: I’m just saying it is costly.
Sisi: Anyone has the right to live in luxury and spend as much as they want but they will have to pay for it, state is not to be committed to pay for luxury and this is not something unfair, I also believe they will not refuse to do so if they realized that this country will never be able to rise unless we change. This means that only the poor are entitled to get subsidy.
Zeina: So Sisi is saying today that “I am not coming to clash with any faction of the society; rich people are entitled to be rich according to the laws of course and I will be there to help the poor.”
Sisi: That is true because the poor have been patient for years.
Sisi: How long can the poor be patient for their conditions of life? We have to start moving to help them, we have to help providing their food, decent residency, and if I go on talking about this subject I would go on for too long.
Zeina: You asked a question “For how long will poor people stay patient regarding their life conditions?”
Sisi: That is an important question.
Zeina: Patience was previously related to disappointment and unreal promises; this caused them to lose their trust in their rulers, systems of governance and people in charge of their country along many years.
Sisi: If the Egyptian people realized that there are true promises being fulfilled, true faithful work and real results achieved on the ground they can be patient more than anybody can imagine. They are now wondering when will things be better and they have every right to wonder. But the fact is that Egyptians no longer believe fake promises they need to see achievements for real.
If they were able to see that for real they will be patient for a longer time.
Zeina: when will they see real results?
Sisi: We are saying that if things go according to the plan we put, citizens will see improvement within two years, but if I talk about getting over all our problems, problems such as slums and street children we need long-term solutions, solutions that can take years to apply them because it will depend on a very large preparations that need long time to achieve them. This is to achieve the opposite of the state of need and change it into a state of sufficiency, I would not say richness, but I will say that they will find their basic needs.
Zeina: Within two years?
Sisi: If God wills it will be within two years.
Zeina: So Sisi promises Egyptians that within two years will have their pockets full?
Sisi: Egyptians and Sisi promise themselves that within two years their problems will come to an end.
Zeina: Let me return to the question where I wondered how would Sisi succeed in what others failed to achieve?
Sisi: That is a brilliant question. Honestly, maybe the answer is that I can see the problem vividly, and that is one important thing. I want to remind many elites and politicians that used to be in charge until June 30. They heard of the huge amount of problems facing people and they were told that the amount of problems would be a huge obstacle for anyone who would be in charge in the upcoming period. They were also told that the solution to that problem, like I told you before, is that people need to be united, and unity here means that all of us should be standing side by side and are well aware of the size of the problem without any amplification or underestimation, in addition to that we have to be united for applying solutions and being united doing so. Only in that case the problem will be solved because it is truly a very big problem.
Zeina: Exclusion of the MB is it the only solution for their problem as you have previously stated “In case I win the elections the MB will no longer exist?”
Sisi: This particular subject needs to be very well understood. We have to ask ourselves a really important question, the question is why is the factions of Egyptian society are not very well tied together, why is the Egyptian society uncomfortable? We have to study that very well and find out why are we not united? Some people might think that the answer will be the differences in people’s beliefs, and by the way I do respect people’s beliefs under one condition, the condition is that no one is entitled to impose their beliefs over other people.
Live your belief as much as you like, yet it is very hard to allow someone to impose his belief over others by force. Also it is unreasonable to have a leader for the country and to have another leader parallel to the one present under any circumstances. This country will not settle down that way. And the leader of the state must be chosen according to its people’s will according to the law and the constitution. This makes it as a contract between the ruler and people, between the president and his people. No one can have another vision other than that or to apply another constitution and another law to the country.
Zeina: So the Muslim Brotherhood made another state or let me describe it as another parallel state?
Sisi: I would not call it as a parallel state; I can say that there is a parallel system in the state that prevents the balance of the state. This system is away from its Egyptian surrounding one way or another. That system claims that it has a speech that is completely true in the system’s opinion and is different from all speeches. This speech claims that it has a religious view, this cannot be applied. Regarding this religious speech let me call all Muslims from all over the world and wonder how do we look now and who we are. And let me say that we lost the humanity in Islam…”we.” This is one important thing that must be put in consideration, “we wasted the humanity in Islam,” where is it? Look around you and wonder, try to see and look carefully at different countries in media, and I will not mention specific countries because I do not like to do so . Ask yourselves what is going on in those countries. We introduce our religion to be the religion of murdering, corrupting an destruction is not that what we do? Sit down and have a dialogue with people of different non-Muslim nationalities and ask them, you will find out that they are terrified from us and they see us as I describe.
Zeina: We are afraid of ourselves!
Sisi: That is another thing, at least we can endure ourselves but others cannot. So it is not tolerated that the religious speech would stay the way it is now, it should have a leader that regulates it because if it keeps going the way opposite to society things will not work out. The whole idea is not about having enemies, it is not revenge between me and them, this is simply what is best for us all, on national basis and by the way the religious interest too and I do not want to go through this particular point.
Zeina: So you are saying that you want to save Egypt and Islam from Muslim Brotherhood.
Sisi: That is true.
Sisi: When you talk about the nation that works in an orderly way you can remember specific countries, Germany, for example. When you talk about disciplined nations you can talk about a country such as Japan. So there is a general character that is observed this nation and became a common trait. So are we the frank nation or not, are we the honest nation or not, are we the just nation or not? You will not like the answers and we must stop to see who are we and where are we? It is not like we are walking.
Zeina: Who do you think distorted such titles or such character, because it is not a new thing of course?
Sisi: That is true, it is not a new thing, but it increased during the past 20 or 30 years, starting from what has happened in Afghanistan and until now. That is the problem and I am concerned about such an issue if I am responsible for this country, to present the religious speech that befits the Muslims.
Zeina: But, how do you want to eliminate a group that has been around for over 80 years, and you just mentioned that they were trying to set up a state within a state, doesn’t that frighten you that they resort to more violence?
Sisi: They resorted to violence without anything; they presented themselves to the Egyptians through the past year in a way that made the Egyptians incapable of living with them again. I don’t have problem with them, they are the ones who have problems, and they need to revise themselves. The failure was in leading the country from a political perspective, they turned that into war and I used to tell them so, I used to tell them you will turn the political dispute to a religious dispute and turn it into a religious war between your supporters and the people and this is unacceptable frankly, this is falsifying the speech and facts, that doesn’t satisfy God to walk like that and we can’t walk like that.
Therefore that can’t return again, there is nothing called a religious leadership to be present because supposedly the country’s president is responsible for everything, even its religion. That’s why when I talked from the beginning, when I was presenting myself to the people I told them, see who am I and know who am I because you will choose. I am responsible for the values, morals, principles and religion.
Zeina: This is the problem of the Muslim Brotherhood, they say that religion is a religion and country, Islam is religion and country, are you saying that the position, or presidential chair to have a political and religious reference?
Sisi: No, let’s not put burden on this matter, to be a moderate religious speech and there is institution that implement that, there is al-Azhar responsible for that and a church for that. No one can undertake this matter by himself and says I know better and whatever I say must be implemented, that is unacceptable, the country’s institution is working and there must be support to work for the sake of the Egyptian country and not for the interest of someone or any trend, that is what I meant.
Zeina: The moment the Muslim Brotherhood took control, they eliminated themselves, their popularity and acceptance. What do you think about that?
Sisi: The Muslim Brotherhood had problems, let me tell you about it; the first problem is that they were ready and very organized to reach the rule but they were not ready or organized to succeed.
The second thing is that Egyptians chose them on a contract; the constitution and law, and they were supposed also to put in front of them the constitution and law and not another point of view, they were acting between their another point of view and the constitution and law so there was a gap in the way they led the country. What I am saying is that when they came in, the constitutional court, which has a judicial and constitutional position in Egypt, had been under siege for three months, so you want to destroy a meaning and a slogan for the country.
They were acting between the constitution and law and between their own trends, visions and their religious perspective. The third problem was that their movements, they were isolated from the Egyptian society; they weren’t in coherence with the society, one of the reasons as well that led to their continuing or their failure.
The final thing is that when the Egyptians chose them, -the Egyptians do not lack religion neither Muslims nor Christians- whoever wants to pray, pray and all the people in Egypt love religion, frankly, and all the Arab region, but they chose them when they thought they had a solution to the crisis, however, they chose to hold to the reins in Egypt, and not to abdicate.
There must be pluralism, a climate of freedoms and circulation of power in Egypt, and this would not have happened under Brotherhood. Another point, is that they had no problem if clashes erupted between their supporters and opponents
Zeina: Until a civil war occurs in Egypt?
Sisi: May be, my question here is ‘what would our military forces do in this situation? Stand beside whom against whom? At the end, all of them are Egyptian. This experience was almost to deluge Egypt. This is my opinion.
Zeina: June 30 was a tipping point which easily attracted people’s emotions but questions raised after a period of time whether the army’s decision not to abandon the will of the people came in coordination with foreign countries or not ?
Sisi: We did not do that; the Egyptian military forces did not do that. If the country is exposed to a real danger, we do not coordinate, consult and cooperate. It was a pure Egyptian decision with all the appreciation and respect to our relationship with others but the national interest had required doing so.
Zeina: You said that Egypt’s army will interfere again as a political action before the outbreak of the June 30 revolution. Is that true?
Sisi: True, I said that before the former presidential and parliamentary election; during the first transitional period after the January 25 revolution. It was my view and people were surprised when I told them that the Egyptian people would need the army again. I told them that they unintentionally hurt the Egyptian army which appreciates them and works for the sake of Egypt and its people, stressing that they would need the army again. What I said? I said that due to the existence of huge scale of challenges and high ceiling of demands, and in return there were a limited available resources. That’s why I am saying now that if people would not take advice and realize the truth, they will come out into street for the third time and not only second.
I felt responsible for the country because the people called on me to run for president. It is so hard for me if people changed their opinion about me after they were seeing me as a “value” just because I could not achieve their demands, that’s why I explicitly says that ‘I can’t do it alone but we may do it all together’
Zeina: I am asking Field Marshal Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, as someone who came from the army and specifically after you said that the Egyptian people may come out to streets for the third time, what will be the army’s stance if people came out streets for the third time, knowing that the Egyptian army supported the Egyptian will against Mubarak in the first time and against Morsi in the second time but it cannot support the Egyptian people against its son Field Marshal Abdel Fatah al-Sisi?
Sisi: I will give you a decisive answer which is I will not wait until the people take to the streets for the third time. If people came out to street I will ask them about their demands and will do it, I cannot wait for that to happen. This question does not include only my reaction if that happened, but also includes the army’s stance and I will say that Egyptian army is always tending toward the Egyptian’s will and not toward a particular person.
There is a private thing between the Egyptian people and their army. Many people and states did not know such a feeling so far.
Translated by Randa el-Banna, Mohamed Abdel Mageed, Sara Osama Shoureap, and Aya Ibrahim