Egypt's Sissi Confirms Unprecedented Military Cooperation With Israel

Egyptian president addresses cooperation against militants in Sinai in interview for CBS ■ Cairo's envoy to the U.S. asks that the interview be withheld from broadcast

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi speaks during presidential session at Africa 2018 Forum at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt December 9, 2018.
\ AMR ABDALLAH DALSH/ REUTERS

Egypt's military cooperation with Israel has reached unprecedented levels, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi told CBS News in an interview scheduled to air Sunday.

Sissi was referring primarily to security cooperation against militants in the northern Sinai – cooperation that Egypt has until now avoided discussing publicly. 

Asked whether cooperation between the sides can be described as the "closest ever," Sissi said: "That is correct…We have a wide range of cooperation with the Israelis."

The Egyptian ambassador to the United States asked for the interview to be withheld ahead of the full broadcast scheduled for Sunday, CBS News said.

During the interview, Sissi was asked about a number of sensitive issues, such as the jailing of critics and repression of opponents from the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.

"We don’t have political prisoners or prisoners of opinion," Sissi said in the interview. "We are trying to stand against the extremists who impose their ideology on the people. Now they are subject to a fair trial, it may take years, but we have to follow the law."

According to Human Rights Watch, around 60,000 political prisoners are currently held in Egypt, but Sissi dismissed the estimate.

"I don't know where they got that figure. I said there are no political prisoners in Egypt. Whenever there is a minority trying to impose their extremist ideology we have to intervene regardless of their numbers," he said.

Sissi, a military general, rose to power in Egypt in 2013 as part of a military and political rebellion against the previous government, which was led by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Since taking power, he has jailed the previous president, Mohammad Morsi, and many other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as opposition members and human rights activists.

He has faced growing criticism in the U.S. for some of his actions, and had a tense relationship with the Obama administration.

Ever since Donald Trump entered the White House, however, Egypt has been hailed by his administration as a partner in the Middle East.