Egypt’s former-army chief and leading presidential candidate Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has said that the Muslim Brotherhood movement of deposed leader Mohamed Morsi was “finished” in Egypt and would not return if he was elected.
Sisi spoke in the first TV interview of his campaign, aired on Monday, vowing that restoring stability and bringing development were his priorities.
The comments were a seemingly unequivocal rejection of any political reconciliation with the Brotherhood, which was Egypt’s most powerful political force until Sisi removed Morsi last summer.
Since ousting Morsi, Sisi has been riding an overwhelming media frenzy lauding him as Egypt’s saviour, and his status as the country’s strongest figure all but guarantees him a victory in the May 26-27 election.
Sisi’s only opponent in the race is leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, the third-place finisher in the 2012 election won by Morsi.
Sisi, who retired from the military in March with the rank of field marshal to launch his candidacy, heads toward office at a time of deepened polarisation.
Morsi’s supporters have continued protests against the new government, often met by fierce and lethal clashes with security forces.
Hundreds have been killed and more than 16,000 members of the Brotherhood and other Islamists have been arrested. Clashes have waned, but the government has branded the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation.
At the same time, armed groups have claimed responsibility for a string of bombings and shootings against police and the military in retaliation for Morsi’s removal.
In the joint interview with two private Egyptian TV stations, Sisi directly accused the Brotherhood of being behind the campaign of bombings and shootings.
He said the movement is using Islamic armed groups as a “cover, to fight from behind this or that group”.
Asked whether the Brotherhood will no longer exist under his presidency, Sisi replied, “Yes. Just like that.”
“It’s not me that finished it, the Egyptians have. The problem is not with me,” he said.
He said the Brotherhood’s ideology was based on “arrogance in religion” – and the presence of that strain of thought had destabilised Egyptian society for decades.
“The thought structure of these groups says that we are not true Muslims, and they believed conflict was inevitable because we are non-believers,” he said.
“It will not work for there to be such thinking again.”
His election campaign is likely to largely be made up of TV and media interviews and private meetings, with few street appearances, mainly because of security concerns, given the fierce emotions surrounding his candidacy and the threat of assassination.
In the interview, Sisi said there have already been two assassination plots against him uncovered, without giving details.