On July 3, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Egyptian defense
minister, announced the removal of President Mohamed Morsy, Egypt's
first democratically elected president, and the suspension of the Egyptian
constitution. It's a very uncertain time now for Egypt, and events are still in
motion -- at press time, Morsy's office called his ouster
a "complete military coup" --
a view not shared by Egyptian Ambassador to the United States
Mohamed Tawfik. As news of the military's move broke, I sat down with the ambassador at his embassy, which was
surprisingly quiet considering Egypt's current turmoil.
In our interview, Tawfik denied that Egypt's military had seized power in a coup, arguing instead that the Egyptian "people have made a very clear choice." The interview below is
edited and condensed for clarity.
Foreign Policy: Was this a coup?
Mohamed Tawfik: It's not a coup because the military did not take power. The
military did not initiate it, it was a popular uprising. The military stepped
in in order to avoid violence. At no point has the military come back to rule
Egypt. That's not happening, that's not going to happen. We should remember
that right after the fall of [Former Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak, the military were asked by all factions
of Egypt to rule the country for the transitional period, and they voluntarily
left power, which is a clear indication that they are not interested in a
FP: Will the embassy staff recognize the rule of the military?
MT: We represent the people of Egypt, and the people have
made a very clear choice. Elections are important, the ballot box is important, but
the ballot box is not a blank check. We will continue to represent people's
interests. The choice of the Egyptian people is to have a transitional
period, followed by early elections.
FP: When are elections?
MT: Elections have not been set yet.
FP: Will [Interim President and former Supreme Constitutional Court Chief Justice Adly Mansour] actually be in
control, or will it be the military?
MT: I have no doubt that he will have full powers. The military
did not stage a coup -- what happened was that the Egyptian people [chose] -- over 10
million people in the streets, not only in Cairo but in virtually all the major
Egyptian cities. That was a very clear position by the people of
Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood, rather than conform to what the Egyptian
people wanted, they chose to mobilize some of their supporters, and they chose
to inflame the situation. The army had no option but to intervene, to save the
country from a very serious situation. The army will not rule -- they made it
very clear from the beginning that they have no intention to rule.
FP: Where is Morsy now?
MT: I have no idea.
FP: Do you fear a civil war?
MT: No. There may be random acts of violence, but the
overwhelming majority of Egyptians have made their decision.
FP: Was the U.S. military acting in collusion with the generals?
MT: The United States has absolutely nothing to do with
the decisions of the Egyptian people.
FP: What is the position of the U.S. government on the latest developments?
MT: We have not yet had any contacts with the US government. No contacts at
all -- we're talking about a decision that just happened.
FP: What support would you like from the U.S. at this moment?
MT: I would like the U.S. to support Egypt's transition to
democracy. What we're talking about is an inclusive democracy -- we would like to
have every single Egyptian feel that their government responds to their needs,
that their human rights and human dignity are respected.
FP: What should Americans know about Sisi?
MT: What you should know about the Egyptian military as a
whole is that it is a national military, professional military, a very broad-based military -- all sectors of society are represented, and it is widely
FP: And Sisi?
MT: Al-Sisi has proven himself to be a very reasonable and energetic
leader of the military; he's also very respected.
FP: What should we expect in the next 24 hours?
MT: I think we shall see the putting into place of the
road map that was put forward today.
FP: When is the constitution going to be reinstated?
MT: As I understand it, there is going to be an inclusive commission that will be
put in place that will look at modifications to the constitution. Once there is
broad agreement on that, then we will proceed to reinstate it. But the whole
idea is that to have the constitution, you need broad agreement.
FP: But when? Weeks, months, years?
MT: I don't know. The important thing is to get it right, for
every Egyptian to feel ownership.
FP: Should Israel be worried about the changes happening in
MT: I see no reason why this should affect Israel in any
FP: What about Syria?
MT: We would like peace in Syria, a transition to
democracy, and we would like Syria to remain united. We would also like the
Syrian people to enjoy the same wave of democracy that is now passing through
FP: There have been concerns about Egypt's instability affecting the price
MT: I see no effect whatsoever on the price of oil. In the past there
were concerns about the direction Egypt is moving, today there is no concern.