In a wide ranging interview with Charlie Rose during this week’s UN General Assembly, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi discussed a variety of issues ranging from Egypt’s role in the coalition against ISIL, the Egyptian economy, Egypt’s relations with the Gulf, and whether the Muslim Brotherhood has a future in Egyptian society. During the interview he confirmed his country’s commitment to the coalition of Arab partners in the fight against ISIL. Without explicitly saying how far Egypt is willing to go to intervene militarily, Sisi said:
…the idea is the coalition is formed and we are part of the coalition, and the symbolism is there with our public announcement that we are part of the coalition…
To what extent this will translate into action in Syria and Iraq remains to be seen but he did emphasize his country’s own problems with instability in Libya and militant networks operating in the Sinai:
We have long borders with Libya and we are taking the full responsibility of securing the borders by the military and civil police because on the Libyan side there isn’t that capability to secure the borders. In the meantime we are exerting enormous efforts in countering terrorism in the Sinai. The Egyptian military is undertaking a major role in counterterrorism in order to deprive the chance that terrorism will spill over to other places in the region.
Then speaking on Egypt’s current economic situation and aid from the Gulf States:
Now we are in a better place, we are speaking now about how to overcome the economic problem and we have objectives, we say if we succeed in the coming 3 years to improve our economic status we can have a kick-off for a much better future. We still need US support, we will need Gulf support, and we still need a lot of investment to be injected into the Egyptian economy. This is an accumulated problem over the years and that is why we are calling on all our friends to stand by us.
On the events leading to the removal of Morsi from office:
[Egyptians] wanted freedoms, social justice, and democracy for their country. They didn’t want a religious state in the way Egypt was approaching; that is what made the Egyptians feel that the social contract between the people and the former president [Morsi] on which they voted for to accept pluralization and inclusiveness did not happen. They said no… I want to say again, I said there was not a mechanism to impeach the president in the former constitution but now if the Egyptians want to take action according to the new constitution to terminate the term of the presidency before completion…now they can with the impeachment mechanism.
On whether the Muslim Brotherhood has a future in Egyptian politics:
It is a call of the Egyptians. Will they denounce violence? Will they have the will to apologize to Egyptians? Will they be ready to participate in the political process with its terms and conditions? Until the moment we are speaking now they are resorting to violence.
When asked about the criticism his government has faced regarding the limitation of freedom of expression and the media, Sisi resolutely denied any restrictions on freedoms:
No, I don’t agree and I’m honest. I’m very sincere with you. The media has not changed; everybody can speak their mind in the newspapers and in the talk shows; anybody can be criticized in the media from the president to any state institution. There is no limitation and this is final. There is no limitation on freedom of expression in Egypt. We are very keen on ensuring that.
While Sisi portrayed a sense of optimism about the development of a “new Egypt” there are a number of problems that Egypt must confront if it is to realize the hopes of the uprisings of recent years. His administration is accountable for initiating the deep seeded reforms Egypt has needed for decades, and over the next few months action will be necessary.