Egypt’s Sisi says U.S. asked him not to overthrow Islamist president

A billboard featuring Egyptian presidential candidate Abdel Fattah Sisi hangs above a Cairo thoroughfare on May 7.
(Khaled Elfiqi / European Pressphoto Agency)

Egyptian presidential front-runner Abdel Fattah Sisi has disclosed that the United States tried last summer to stave off the ouster of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president.

In a televised interview taped earlier this week and aired Tuesday night, Sisi said that then-U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson asked him to wait “a day or two” before removing Morsi from office. The U.S. apparently hoped that the deeply unpopular Islamist president might agree to a nationwide referendum on whether he should remain, or some other political accommodation.

Sisi, the defense minister at the time, carried out the coup in July despite the U.S. appeal and since then has been the country’s de facto leader. His disclosure was the first public acknowledgment by a senior figure that the Americans were aware in advance that he intended to push Morsi aside.

Word of the U.S. attempt to forestall the coup is likely to fuel anti-American sentiment in Egypt, which flared after Morsi was deposed. Many Egyptians believe President Obama was and remains a fervent supporter of the Islamist leader, particularly after state media carried out a concerted campaign of incitement against foreign “interference” in Egyptian affairs.


However, Sisi refrained in the interview from overt criticism of the American administration, asking instead for understanding of the circumstances surrounding Morsi’s ouster. He also said Western values should not be applied in judging Egypt.

“Look at us with Egyptian eyes,” he said.

Western governments and human rights groups have been sharply critical of repressive measures by the interim government, including the killing of hundreds of pro-Morsi demonstrators and the jailing of thousands more. The military-backed government has also placed curbs on freedom of expression and assembly, saying these steps were justified by security threats.

Sisi is expected to easily win the presidential vote on May 26-27.