When then-Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi appointed a little-known general named Abdel Fattah Al Sisi to be his new defense minister in August 2012, rumors swirled that the officer was chosen for his sympathy with the teachings of Mr. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. One telltale sign, people said, was the on the general’s forehead—the darkened patch of skin that is the result of frequent and fervent prayer.
A pious Muslim must surely also be a political Islamist—or so Mr. Morsi apparently assumed. But the general would soon give the world a lesson in the difference between religious devotion and radicalism.
“There are misconceptions and misperceptions about the real Islam,” now-President Sisi tells me during a two-hour interview in his ornate, century-old presidential palace in Heliopolis. “Religion is guarded by its spirit, by its core, not by human beings. Human beings only take the core and deviate it to the right or left.”
Does he mean to say, I ask, that members of the Muslim Brotherhood are bad Muslims? “It’s the ideology, the ideas,” he replies.
“The real Islamic religion grants absolute freedom for the whole people to believe or not believe. Never does Islam dictate to kill others because they do not believe in Islam. Never does it dictate that [Muslims] have the right to dictate [their beliefs] to the whole world. Never does Islam say that only Muslims will go to paradise and others go to hell.”
Jabbing his right finger in the air for emphasis, he adds: “We are not gods on earth, and we do not have this right to act in the name of Allah.”...