Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi says he supports the Syrian military – a position at odds with his country’s Gulf benefactors such as Saudi Arabia.
The former army chief, who has overseen a warming of ties with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s main backer Russia, made the comments during an interview aired on Tuesday with Portuguese broadcaster RTP.
“Our priority is to support national armies, for example in Libya to assert control over Libyan territories and deal with extremist elements. The same with Syria and Iraq,” he said, responding to a question on whether Egypt would contemplate a United Nations peacekeeping role in Syria.
Asked by the interviewer whether he meant the Syrian military, he responded: “Yes.”
The government of Sisi, who was elected in 2014 almost a year after overthrowing president Mohamed Morsi, had been supported by billions of dollars in aid from Saudi Arabia. But ties appear to have cooled between the two countries amid disagreements over Syria.
Saudi Arabia backs rebels trying to oust Assad, while Russia and Iran are supporting him militarily.
The kingdom suspended oil shipments to Egypt in October, a move announced after Cairo backed a Russian-drafted resolution on Syria in the UN Security Council, angering Riyadh.
In his interview, Sisi maintained Egypt’s broad position on resolving the Syrian conflict, saying the solution must be “political”.
“Our stance in Egypt is to respect the will of the Syrian people, and that a political solution to the Syrian crisis is the most suitable way, and to seriously deal with terrorist groups and disarm them,” he said.
Sisi, who has praised Donald Trump, also said a plan floated by the US president-elect to have a database for Muslims was understandable.
“Yes,” he said when asked whether he felt concerned by such rhetoric.
“But every country tries to provide security and stability for its citizen, and we understand that.”