Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egypt’s former army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi kicked off his presidential campaign on Monday with his first ever TV interview, during which he ruled out reconciliation with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. He stressed that “there will be nothing called the Muslim Brotherhood” if he is elected president, adding that the Egyptian people reject reconciliation with the outlawed group.
In an interview jointly conducted by the privately-owned CBC and ONTV television channels and also broadcast on state TV, the popular former defense minister also claimed that he had been the target of two failed assassination attempts. He pledged that this would not stop him from “carrying out the responsibilities demanded by the presidency,” including meeting with the Egyptian people.
As for criticisms that he has kept a low profile since announcing his presidential candidacy, Sisi said “the campaign just started yesterday,” possibly a veiled reference to his election rival Hamdeen Sabahy, who has featured prominently in the pre-campaigning stage, drawing criticisms from the country’s highest electoral body.
“The silence was necessary. If I am to represent a hoped-for future for Egypt, then I have to be a good role model,” he said in reference to an election rule that barred candidates from campaigning before May 2.
Sisi denied having a “plan” to “hijack” the presidency, saying that he only took the decision to run in response to internal and external threats to the country and popular demands calling for him to do so. “Any responsible Egyptian who is capable of stepping in to save the nation, must do so . . . The county is being targeted from inside and out.”
In what may emerge as one of the most divisive issues of the election, Sisi backed a controversial anti-protest law, which Sabahy says he will repeal if elected. Sisi said that “irresponsible” demonstrations threaten national security and stability. He did not rule out passing more stringent anti-terror laws if he is elected president, saying he would take “whatever decisions needed to be taken” to protect the country.
The former army chief also presented a more personal side of himself to the Egyptian electorate, speaking candidly about his upbringing and family. “I’m an Egyptian Muslim who loves his country, his religion and people,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sabahy delivered his first national address on Sunday, pledging to work for social justice, dignity and national independence.
“We have toppled two heads of state, yet the same policies remain. We have made huge sacrifices, yet we still fail to obtain the good life we deserve,” he said.
The veteran Nasserist politician is attempting to cast himself as the “revolutionary” candidate, calling for Egyptians who want to see the objectives of the January 25 revolution achieved to vote for him.
The left-of-center Sabahy said the solution to terrorism and the lack of security the country is currently experiencing is to combat poverty and implement social justice. “We cannot aspire to change, to produce or to achieve social justice as long as the desperate, wretched phantom of terrorism remains,” he said.
Sabahy also pledged to scrap the anti-protest law issued last November, saying “I will replace it with a law which organizes, rather than bans, protests.”
A poll carried out by Egyptian polling center Baseera showed that 72 percent of respondents were backing Sisi for president, compared to just two percent for Sabahy, according to Egypt’s Al-Ahram newspaper. In the previous poll carried out by Baseera for the period of February 27 to March 4, 51 percent of respondents said they would support Sisi, with 45 percent undecided.