CAIRO (AP) — Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the former military chief who removed Egypt's Islamist president and who is now considered certain to become the next president in elections this month, said the Muslim Brotherhood will never return as an organization, accusing it of using militant groups to destabilize the country.
El-Sissi spoke in the first TV interview of his campaign, aired 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 el-Sissi removed President Mohammed Morsi last summer.
Since ousting Morsi, el-Sissi has been riding an overwhelming media frenzy lauding him as Egypt's savior, and his status as the country's strongest figure all but guarantees him a victory in the May 26-27 election. El-Sissi's only opponent in the race is leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, the third-place finisher in the 2012 election won by Morsi.
El-Sissi, 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 polarization. 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 organization.
At the same time, Islamic militant 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, el-Sissi directly accused the Brotherhood of being behind the campaign of bombings and shootings. He said the movement is using Islamic militant groups as a "cover, to fight from behind this or that group."
Asked whether the group will no longer exist under his presidency, el-Sissi 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 destabilized 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, el-Sissi said there have already been two assassination plots against him uncovered, without giving details.
A second part of the interview is to be aired on Tuesday.