CAIRO — In his first interview since the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi last month, Egypt's commanding general sharply criticized the U.S. response, accusing the Obama administration of disregarding the Egyptian popular will and of providing insufficient support amid threats of a civil war.
"You left the Egyptians. You turned your back on the Egyptians, and they won't forget that," an indignant Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sissi said.
Sissi is widely considered the most powerful man in Egypt, wielding more control than anyone over the country's direction after a tumultuous two and a half years in which the military has shoved aside two presidents following popular uprisings. He denied interest in running for president but did not rule it out.
Although Sissi gives occasional speeches, he rarely sits down for interviews. But on Thursday, he provided his most detailed explanation yet of why he decided to oust Morsi, the nation's first democratically elected president. Sissi also expressed deep disappointment that the United States has not been more eager to embrace his rationale.
Since Morsi was ousted July 3, U.S. officials have cautioned Sissi and other generals to show restraint in their dealings with protesters, at least 140 of whom have been killed in clashes with security forces. The Obama administration has also encouraged the military to reconcile with the Muslim Brotherhood, which brought Morsi to power.
Like many pro-military Egyptians, Sissi appeared angry that the United States has not fully endorsed what he described as "a free people who rebelled against an unjust political rule." Supporters of Morsi's removal compare it to longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak being ousted in 2011, an act applauded in Washington. But unlike Mubarak, Morsi had been elected in a vote widely seen as free and fair.
Sissi said that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel calls him "almost every day" but that President Barack Obama has not called since Morsi's ouster. On Saturday, Sissi assured Hagel that the country's leaders were "working toward a process of political reconciliation," Pentagon spokesman George Little said, according to Reuters.
Sissi portrayed himself as reluctant to move against Morsi, and said he had done all he could during the president's year in office to help him succeed. Morsi, he said, had repeatedly failed to heed the general's advice.
Meanwhile, the economy was badly deteriorating, and law and order had begun to break down. Millions of Egyptians took to the streets on June 30, the anniversary of Morsi's inauguration, to demand the end of his rule.
Ultimately, Sissi said, he had no choice.
"I expected if we didn't intervene, it would have turned into a civil war," he said.