CAIRO - Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt's former military chief who is poised to win the presidency in elections this month, said he plans to make improvements in people's living conditions within two years but will step down if they rise up against him - without waiting for the army to remove him.
Sissi was speaking with the Emirates-based Sky News Arabia, giving his first televised interview as a presidential candidate to foreign media.
Riding on a wave of nationalist fervor, the 59-year old Sissi faces a single rival in the May 26-27 vote. The media and supporters tout him as the nation's savior for ousting the elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, in July after massive rallies against him and a rising specter of civilian infighting.
The protesters were complaining that a year into office, Morsi and his Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood were monopolizing power. Morsi refused to step down or hold a referendum on his leadership after an ultimatum from Sissi.
The military also moved in to replace longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 after days of protests against him. Mubarak stepped down, and the military ruled for a transitional period before Morsi was elected as part of the Brotherhood's steady, subsequent sweep at the ballot box.
"Do you think I will wait for a third time? If people go down to protest, I will say, I am at your service," Sissi said. "I can't wait until the army asks me to [step down], I can't be like this. I fear for my country. I fear for the people."
El-Sissi said the Brotherhood has lost the trust of Egyptians. "It is their problem, not mine. They need to reevaluate themselves," he said, accusing the group of turning a political problem into a religious war.
He said he would not allow a religious leadership, as he said the Brotherhood tried to present itself, to exist in parallel to the state and its religious institutions.
"It is not an animosity, it is not revenge between me and them," he said.
The government has branded the Brotherhood a terrorist group, accusing it of orchestrating a violent campaign to destabilize the country. The Brotherhood denies it adopts violent means and accuses the government of seeking to smear its name.
Sissi refused to comment on mass trials and sentences against Brotherhood members, including a death sentence already issued against the group's leader, Mohammed Badie, on charges that he instigated violence. The sentence can be appealed. He said the courts are independent and the law must be respected.
Prosecutors on Sunday said seven alleged Muslim Brotherhood members were sentenced to life in prison for blocking a highway and damaging a security post outside Cairo last summer after security forces violently broke up sit-ins supporting Morsi.
Another court on Sunday sentenced 36 students from an Islamic university in Cairo to four years' imprisonment for taking part in a December protest against Morsi's overthrow.