CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's powerful army chief left open the possibility of running for president in elections due next year, according to excerpts of an interview published Tuesday, as he gave his first account of his overthrow of the country's Islamist president.
Since the July 3 coup that removed President Mohammed Morsi, there have been growing calls from the military's supporters for Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to run to replace him. Previously, a military spokesman denied el-Sissi had political ambitions. The interview with the newspaper Al-Masry al-Youm was the general's first direct comment on the issue.
"I think the time is inappropriate to raise this question in light of the challenges and risks that the country is going through," he said when asked if he would run, according to excerpts posted on the newspaper's website Tuesday from the interview to be published the next day.
He said attention must not be distracted from carrying out "the map for the future" for a post-Morsi transition, "which will create a new reality that is hard to evaluate now." Then he was silent and added, "God gets His way," according to the excerpts.
El-Sissi, the defense minister and head of the military, removed Morsi after a massive wave of protests against the Islamist leader demanding his ouster and accusing his Muslim Brotherhood of seeking to dominate Egypt. El-Sissi said in the interview that he repeatedly urged Morsi to compromise with his opponents and be more inclusive.
Since then, the military-backed interim government has cracked down on the group, accusing top leaders of incitement and murder, rounding up some 2,000 members and killing hundreds of pro-Morsi demonstrators.
Officials and allied media have depicted the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies as a threat to the nation, presenting the crackdown against them as a fight against terrorism. There has been an escalation of violence by Islamic militants — many from groups allied to the Brotherhood — with massive attacks targeting security forces in the volatile northern Sinai and other parts of the country.
At the same time, officials and media have fanned pro-military nationalist sentiment, depicting el-Sissi and the army as saviors of the country — further fueling calls for him to run. The military backed transition plan calls for the amending of the Morsi-era constitution, then for presidential and parliamentary elections to be held early next year.
In its latest move at dismantling the sprawling Brotherhood organization, banned by a sweeping court order last month, the government on Tuesday revoked the permit of the association the group founded earlier this year to give itself a legal face.
In an earlier part published on Tuesday from the three-part Al-Masry Al-Youm interview, el-Sissi gave his account of Morsi's ouster, saying that Brotherhood leaders had warned him of "terrorist attacks" if Morsi were overthrown.
El-Sissi said the turmoil of the past three months could have been avoided if Morsi had resigned in the face of the protests that drew out millions against him, starting on June 30. Days after the protests began, el-Sissi said, he met with senior Brotherhood figures, including the group's strongman Khairat el-Shater.
He said el-Shater warned him that the Brotherhood, which made up the backbone of Morsi's administration, would not be able to control retaliation by Islamic groups in Sinai and other areas if Morsi were removed.
"El-Shater spoke for 45 minutes, vowing terrorist attacks, violence, killings by the Islamic groups," el-Sissi told the paper. "El-Shater pointed with his finger as if he is shooting a gun." He said el-Shater's speech "showed arrogance and tyranny," adding: "I exploded and said ... 'What do you want? You either want to rule us or kill us?"
Addressing Islamists now in the wake of Morsi's fall, el-Sissi said, "Watch out while dealing with Egyptians. You have dealt with Egyptians as if you are right and they are wrong ... (as if) you are the believer and they are the infidels. This is arrogance through faith."
In the first part of the interview published Monday, el-Sissi said he told Morsi in February, "your project has ended and the amount of antipathy in Egyptians' souls has exceeded any other regime." He added that the military's move against Morsi was driven by fears of civil war.
As the interim government moves against the Brotherhood, violence has continued. On Monday, nine soldiers and policemen were killed, and attackers fired a projectile at the country's main satellite communications station in Cairo, punching a hole in a giant satellite dish. On Tuesday, militants opened fire on a military post in the Suez Canal city of Port Said, state news agency MENA said, killing a soldier killed and injuring another.
A militant group calling itself the Furqan Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack on the communications station, describing it as part of an ongoing war between "Sunni Muslims and infidels who intended to uproot Islam from the land of Egypt."
On Sunday, 59 people — mostly supporters of Morsi opposing the coup against him — were killed in a heavy security crackdown in Cairo and other governorates. On Tuesday, security was so intense around planned pro-Morsi protest sites in and around Cairo University that organizers called them off.
A leading Brotherhood figure in exile, Ibrahim Mounier, denounced the dissolving of the Brotherhood's association, calling it "hasty, illegal and random." Speaking from London to Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr TV, he said the government should have waited for a ruling by a higher court, expected on Saturday, regarding the association's legality.
Outlawed for most of 85-year existence, the Brotherhood built its networks largely underground. In the aftermath of 2011 uprising that forced longtime president Hosni Mubarak from power, the group founded a political wing — the Freedom and Justice Party, which charged to victory in successive elections. But the non-governmental organization was only founded in March, while Morsi was still in power and the group came under pressure to define its legal status.
Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report.