Washington, United States | AFP | Egypt has asked CBS not to air an interview with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in which he discussed cooperation with Israel in the fight against Sinai jihadists, the US network said.
The network said on its website Thursday that Sisi — a former army chief and defense minister — made the remarks in a taped interview due to air for its 60 Minutes program on Sunday.
“Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi sat down with Scott Pelley to make news on 60 Minutes and did when he confirmed his military was working with Israel against terrorists in North Sinai,” CBS said.
Asked if this cooperation was the closest ever between the former enemies, Sisi said, “That is correct… We have a wide range of cooperation with the Israelis,” according to the CBS website.
Afterwards, the Egyptian ambassador to the United States contacted the 60 Minutes team to tell them “the interview could not be aired”, the network said.
CBS said it would go ahead regardless on Sunday and air “the interview Egypt’s government doesn’t want on TV”.
Egypt has been battling an insurgency in the northern Sinai Peninsula for years. Violence intensified following the overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi by the army then headed by Sisi in 2013.
In February, the security forces launched a major operation aimed at wiping out the local affiliate of the Islamic State group which has been spearheading the insurgency in the Sinai.
The same month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country would do “whatever is necessary to defend ourselves” after the New York Times reported that Israeli aircraft had carried out dozens of cross-border strikes against jihadists in the Sinai.
The Egyptians are battling an estimated 1,000 IS-affiliated jihadists and are letting Israel attack them from the air, CBS said.
Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab countries to have signed peace treaties with Israel, but relations remain sensitive due to hostility toward the Jewish state among their populations.
CBS posted on its website an excerpt of the interview in which Sisi is asked how many “political prisoners” Egypt is holding.
The Egyptian president, speaking in Arabic, replies: “We don’t have any political prisoners or prisoners of opinion. We are trying to stand against extremists who impose their ideology on the people”.
He also dismissed a report by Human Rights Watch that said Egyptian authorities “have arrested or charged probably at least 60,000 people” since the 2013 military coup that ousted Morsi.
“I don’t know where they got that figure. I said there are no political prisoners in Egypt.”
Sisi came to power in 2014, a year after he overthrew Morsi following mass protests against the Islamist’s rule.
Human rights groups say the former defense chief has since installed a repressive and authoritarian regime.