By Ahram Online
In an exclusive extended interview with Spanish daily El-Mundo del Siglo Veintiuno published on Wedne, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has said former rulers and now-outlawed Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood have the right to defend their ideas, but are not allowed to impose them on Egyptians.
The president, in office for almost one year, also spoke about key issues related to the battle between Egyptian security forces and Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt’s military involvement in Yemen, and upcoming parliamentary elections.
El-Sisi said he has been working on “a difficult equation” after choosing between the safety of 90 million Egyptians and chaos, talking about Egypt following the ouster of Islamist former president Mohamed Morsi.
“If I had not intervened, there would have been civil war,” El-Sisi stated.
El-Sisi told El-Mundo that coexistence is possible for supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, adding that the state will not fight people for their ideas.
However, he said that Muslim Brotherhood supporters should know that the state would not communicate with them.
The Brotherhood can ask Egyptians to vote on whether or not they accept their ideas, as a way of defending their discourse, but they cannot impose their views on Egyptians, he said.
“They haven’t been doing this yet, but they started to understand,” he added.
Speaking about the use of violence against the Muslim Brotherhood, El-Sisi said, “You can only use violence with those who resort to it first.” He also stressed that he prefers the institutions of justice and the state while dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The government has banned the 86-year-old Brotherhood movement, designating it a terrorist organisation. The group insists it is committed to peaceful activism.
When asked why he is treating the Muslim Brotherhood differently than former president Hosni Mubarak and Gamal Abdel Nasser, El-Sisi said, “because the scenario is different.”
“Nasser gave no choice to the Brotherhood. As for Mubarak, he made a reconciliation and allowed them to play a political role. Now it is the Egyptian people who reject the participation of the Brotherhood,” said El-Sisi.
When asked about the crackdown carried out by the government on the Brotherhood since Morsi’s ouster, El-Sisi said: “I wish there was no violence,” asking the interviewee to compare facts and figures to Iraq and Syria.
Since the summer of 2013, thousands of members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood have been rounded up and faced trials.
Sinai out of control?
The Egyptian president explicitly refused the claim that there are militants of the Islamic State (IS) in Sinai, highlighting that he is working to protect civilians living in the Peninsula.
“The image that you have about Sinai is wrong. Terrorism there is concentrated in an area near the Gaza Strip in Northern Sinai whose length ranges between 50-60 kilometres. The Peninsula is 60,000 square kilometres,” El-Sisi explained.
Speaking about Egyptian soldiers deployed in Sinai, El-Sisi said that they are sufficient to deal with terrorists within the borders of the country.
“We must not allow them to make propaganda that they are forming a state in the country, and draw a virtual situation that does not correspond to reality,” said El-Sisi.
Egypt’s army has been fighting a decade-long militant Islamist insurgency that has spiked since the ouster of Egypt’s first elected president, Muslim Brotherhood leader Morsi, in summer 2013 following nationwide mass protests against his rule.
Hundreds of police and soldiers, as well as civilians, have been killed in militant attacks in following months.
Sinai-based militant group Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis has claimed most attacks against army and police personnel in the Peninsula.
In recent months, the group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State militant group, which controls large swathes of Syria and Iraq.
Egyptian troops in Yemen?
Earlier this year Houthi fighters took over several cities in Yemen, including the capital Sanaa, a development that prompted Saudi Arabia and regional allies in late March to carry out airstrikes against them, to halt their advance.
In the interview, El-Sisi said that Saudi Arabia has not asked Egypt to send ground troops.
“We are moving towards a political solution because we don’t want to complicate the situation more than it already is,” said El-Sisi.
Egypt’s support for the military campaign came in order to secure the Bab Al-Mandab strait off the Yemen coast, which is “a top priority for Egypt’s national security,” said El-Sisi.
Around 1,200 Egyptian expats have been evacuated from Yemen so far, Egypt’s foreign ministry has said.
Final step in the political roadmap
Speaking about Egypt’s long-awaited parliamentary elections, El-Sisi said that he was planning that the elections would take place in March. However, the process was halted due to judicial rulings.
“As I promised Egyptians, parliamentary elections will be held before the end of 2015,” said El-Sisi.
Egypt’s High Constitutional Court on 2 March ruled parts of the electoral laws governing parliamentary elections unconstitutional, thus postponing the planned polls. A cabinet committee formed to amend the electoral laws then started working to make the necessary amendments.
Egypt has been without a parliament since the House of Representatives elected in late 2011 was dissolved in June 2012, following a court ruling that judged the law regulating its election unconstitutional.
President El-Sisi holds legislative powers until an elected parliament convenes.
Once a parliament is elected, they will vote on all laws issued by El-Sisi and his predecessor, Interim President Adly Mansour.