CAIRO - Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the former military chief who removed Egypt's Islamist president and who is now poised to win the post in elections this month, said the Muslim Brotherhood will never return as an organization, accusing it of using militant groups as cover to destabilize the country.
Sissi spoke in the first TV interview of his campaign, aired Monday, vowing that restoring stability and bringing development were his priorities. The comments were a seemingly unequivocal rejection of any political reconciliation with the Brotherhood, which was Egypt's most powerful political force until Sissi removed President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the group, last summer.
Sissi has since been riding an overwhelming media frenzy lauding him as Egypt's savior, and his status as the country's strongest figure all but guarantees him a victory in the May 26-27 election. His only opponent in the race is leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, the third-place finisher in the 2012 election won by Morsi.
Sissi's comments were a stark signal of his intention to ensure the elimination of the 86-year-old Brotherhood as both a political and ideological force in the country. He is building on an unprecedented popular resentment of the group, after its rise to power in the last three years.
Asked whether the Brotherhood will no longer exist under his presidency, Sissi replied, "Yes. Just like that."
"It's not me that finished it, the Egyptians have," he said.
The Brotherhood and its Islamist allies won every election following the 2011 ouster of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, dominating the parliament and capturing the presidency under Morsi. Its electoral strength was largely rooted in a widespread grassroots organization it had built up for decades despite being banned under Mubarak.
But after Morsi had been in office a year, millions joined protests demanding his removal, accusing his Brotherhood of monopolizing power and seeking to change the country's identity - prompting Sissi's ouster of Morsi.
Security forces have waged a ferocious crackdown on Morsi backers. The government has branded the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.