Akhbar Al Youm Chairman of the Board Yasser Rizk talks with Field Marshal Abdul Fattah El Sisi about what will need to be done to resurrect the modern Egyptian state.
Written by Yasser Rizk
Ahead of last month’s presidential elections held May 26-27, Akhbar Al Youm Chairman Yasser Rizk, along with chief editors from other state publications, spent four hours interviewing and getting to know the presidential frontrunner Field Marshal Abdul Fattah El Sisi. Rizk expressed how he never bored of El Sisi’s company. “Something about the man is attractive. An unmistakable mix of honesty and devotion, his words speak to both the mind and the heart. El Sisi only talks about what he believes in and is not concerned with sugar-coating his words. And El Sisi does not hide his feelings. He is a man with one face, even if he cannot find the words to express himself while speaking of the nation, the people and the poor. He has the courage to let a tear slip.”
We know you had refused to run in presidential elections, saying that the honor of defending the nation is dearer to you than ruling Egypt. Months later when the people insisted that you run, you did not close the door and finally announced on March 26 your decision to run. At what moment did you decide?
Egypt Today presents serialized translated segments of the Q&A looking at the new president's roadmap for Egypt over the next four years. Edited excerpts:
My decision took shape after looking at the situation as one where national interest must be placed above all else. On a personal level, I was the minister of defense and the Constitution granted I would stay in my position for eight years. But personal interest pales in the face of national good, particularly when the nation is under threat. At the beginning when I had announced my decision not to run, the situation was different. The rule changed and the head of the Constitutional Court assumed power. The reading was that the situation would be dealt with peacefully. But this did not happen and we found ourselves battling an internal threat from a current whose goal was to destroy the country. And if that current did destroy the country, then neither they nor anyone else could control it. The nation has been ailing for 40 years or more, and the lawlessness and deteriorating security situation contributed to its overall decline. And I asked myself if there was anyone who could take control of the reins in this period. And to what extent could the people withstand all the acts of killing and destruction perpetrated by the above-mentioned current. For how long could the people bear the unstable security situation and the regressive economic situation? Not to mention the internal and external threats and intelligence units operating in the country against the nation.
I found that defending Egypt, which I had said was more noble for me than ruling it, pushed me to run for the presidency. That I would be morally, nationally, historically and religiously accountable for not stepping in and dealing with the situation. For these reasons I made the decision on January 27, and at the meeting of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces I explained my decision. I spoke to them on a purely human level; I have been with them my entire life and I believe I have credibility with them. I presented the level of threat and they left me the freedom to decide. I chose to run for president because the national interest is above personal interest, even if it means I lose my popularity in the future.
People imagined that as soon as the seven-day deadline was up, after they took to the streets on June 30 that the regime would be removed from power. But you gave former President Mohamed Morsi 48 more hours. Why?
We did not “take over.” Partiality to the people is one thing and “taking over” is another. Since January 2013, I have been warning with complete transparency about the need put national interest first. The reason behind the seven days was to find a solution that would lead to a referendum over his presidency. When the people turned out in their millions, he refused to believe it and said they were only 130,000. And when I asked him, “All these people are only 130,000?” He said, “It’s been Photoshopped.”
The second grace period was the 48-hour period and was born of my nationalist and personal conscience. And I expressed it was an opportunity to save face. I tried with him until 4pm on July 3 and he was in his office and not under arrest. If he had accepted the referendum, there would have been a chance for a solution.
But the people after June 30 would not have accepted the referendum. Their demands had gone beyond that.
There would have been a chance to convince the public to hold a referendum within a month, say. And if he had been sure of getting the vote, he would have agreed, but he knew that even those of the downtrodden who voted for him no longer supported him.
what would you say is the biggest challenge you’ll face?
The biggest challenge is that Egypt needs to overcome this state of need and come out of its poverty. Poverty is the biggest obstacle facing the institutions of the state.
I do not sleep. People ask, “Why is he always so burdened?” I am burdened with the problems I want to find solutions to, such as eradicating illiteracy and poverty so we can regain a modern nation. The modern Egyptian nation began with Mohammed Ali, then it stopped and went into decline and was revived during the Nasser era, but the national project shattered in 1967. What we are seeing today are the ramifications of what happened in 1967. I want to rebuild the foundations of the modern state, the foundations that were buried. The first five-year plan (from 1962-1967) was the last real plan we had.
My rhetoric is not that of emotions, and when I tell people “You are the light of my eyes,” I really do believe it. And I believe that the massive strength of the Egyptian Army can never be turned against them. We have to live with the reality of the situation.
There are those who say your rhetoric is not that of presidential candidates.
There is no time for courtesy. The magnitude of the challenge is greater than we imagine, and it is unprecedented in the history of Egypt. Egyptian voters have the right to say no, I cannot accept that anyone forces them into a certain decision. True democracy is that I speak with truth and transparency. Will you stick with me with my truth?
I speak with media personalities, journalists and experts. I am trying to create a true understanding of the Egyptian reality and summon the national responsibility of all people. Why would I do that and who’s to gain? For the good of the nation — and if I can — I will serve my country with my own life. I am not one of the people who say, “It’s me or no one.” Whoever wants to run should run.
In military terms, what is the direct mission that you want to achieve in the four years of your presidency ?
The immediate mission is to break the millions of poor out of the circle of direct poverty. Then comes the main mission, which is to build up the modern state. And it is the launch toward the horizons of the future that Egyptians deserve for their patience dealing with their poverty and need. For this mission, we have to prepare our youth for the future and develop true leaders to lead the country and the Egyptian state, and I would be happy with them. And I say that the Egyptian nation should not be built on the shoulders of one man: If he dies, the nation will collapse.