Egypt’s interim president has defended the military’s removal by force of his predecessor and said his government’s top priority was restoring security.
Adly Mansour’s interview late on Tuesday night with Egyptian state television, the first since his appointment, aired on the same day that a military tribunal issued verdicts against supporters of deposed president Mohammed Morsi and a court ordered channels sympathetic to the former regime off the air.
The wide-ranging interview appeared aimed at putting a civilian face on the military removal of Mr Morsi, amid concerns that the army was pulling the strings from behind the scenes.
Mr Mansour said Egypt was moving from “authoritarian rule to democratic rule” and said the top priorities were sticking to a military-backed roadmap for transition, restoring security and improving the economy.
The interim government is charging ahead with a transition plan, appointing a committee to review the constitution passed under Mr Morsi. A new version will be put to a referendum within two months, opening the way for presidential and parliamentary elections.
The interim president defended reinstating emergency laws in the meantime. The state of emergency grants authorities sweeping powers of arrest.
“Acts of terrorism and an aggressive war by extremists led us to this decision,” he said.
He said, without elaborating, that there was a plan aimed at “burning Egypt”. State media has frequently accused Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters of carrying out acts of terrorism and attacking police stations, churches and government buildings.
Mr Morsi’s backers say the new leaders are relying on security forces and a corrupt system to go after the group to avoid finding a political solution.
Mr Mansour said his government would not hold reconciliation talks with any individuals who have incited or taken part in acts of violence.
He said the fate of the Brotherhood was now in the hands of the judiciary, which is reviewing a case calling for the group’s dissolution on the grounds that it operated outside the boundaries of the law. The interim prime minister recently said the Brotherhood should be allowed to have a political party and be monitored, rather than be forced underground.
In the past few weeks, many leaders and members have been detained and face prosecution on charges ranging from inciting violence to possession of weapons and murder.
Mr Morsi has been held in an undisclosed location since his fall on 3 July. He has been referred to trial for inciting the murder of opponents last year.
The turmoil and violence in Egypt has scared away tourists and driven away foreign investors. Mr Mansour said he would not paint a “rosy picture” of the situation and instead read off a list of grim figures that pointed to the many obstacles Egypt faced in its recovery.
He said unemployment was at 13 per cent and foreign investment in Egypt had sunk to just £1.2 billion from £8.3bn five years ago. He said Egypt’s foreign debt was around £25bn and its budget deficit at £17bn. He said the country’s foreign reserves were half of what they were before 2011, when the country erupted in protest. Tourism, which pumped some £10bn into Egypt’s economy, needed to be revived.
Although some world leaders have called it a coup, Mr Mansour insisted it was the will of people who voted for Mr Morsi to remove him from power for failing to govern democratically.
“This is real democracy,” the interim president said.