EGYPT. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is urging the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military to end their standoff by engaging in talks and to continue the country's transition to democracy.
“It will take dialogue and compromise among all stakeholders and parties to achieve these goals and avoid confrontations that could derail progress toward democracy,” Clinton said yesterday in Cairo during an appearance with Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr.
Thousands of protesters filled the streets near Cairo’s presidential palace and Clinton’s hotel, giving her a glimpse of the explosive politics in the Arab world’s most populous nation. One placard said, “Go to hell, Hillary.” Another, reflecting anti-Brotherhood sentiment, said “You like the Islamists, Hillary? Take them with you.”
Clinton met yesterday with newly elected Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, who was the candidate of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. She is scheduled to sit down today with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the powerful military council. Clinton said she looked forward to working on the military’s return to a “purely national security role” and the “full transition to civilian rule.”
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, known as SCAF, stripped the presidency of much of its power in the days after Mursi’s election last month and then dissolved parliament following a court ruling. The moves heightened tensions and threw into question the fate of the country’s fledgling democracy.
Clinton praised the military for “representing” the Egyptian people during their relatively peaceful revolution last year and compared it with the Syrian regime’s violent response to demands for democracy.
In meetings yesterday with Mursi and Amr, Clinton also discussed the economy and regional security. She was meeting Mursi for the first time, sitting down to chat in a small room in the presidential palace.
As they began, she told him that things change at “warp speed.” He said in English that “we are very, very keen to meet you and happy that you are here.”
Although Mursi has said he would seek the release of Omar Abdel Rahman, the Egyptian-born militant convicted in the U.S. plotting to bomb several New York City landmarks, he didn’t raise the case yesterday, Clinton said.
Clinton repeatedly stressed that Egypt’s future lies in the hands of the Egyptians.
“I have come to Cairo to reaffirm the strong support of the United States for the Egyptian people and their democratic transition,” she said. “As you move forward, we will be there with support. Your choices will decide the future of this country.”
Clinton felt the need to start building ties to Egypt’s new leaders early, according to a State Department official who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record.
Clinton didn’t come to Cairo with prescriptions or proposals for Egypt’s political crisis, the official said. Instead, she will try to help develop a dialogue that the U.S. believes is crucial to defusing tensions. When it comes to the political situation, the official said, Clinton is largely in the country to listen.
Yet Clinton indirectly made clear to Egypt’s leaders what’s at stake if the democratic transition doesn’t go well. She outlined millions of dollars in economic assistance the U.S. is set to provide Egypt and the Obama administration’s plans to support the country’s pursuit of loans from groups such as the International Monetary Fund.
Egypt’s highest appeals court yesterday refused to re- examine last month’s ruling that the law governing voting, which produced an Islamist-controlled parliament, was unconstitutional. The ruling military council used the decision to dissolve parliament, then re-established martial law and consolidated power at the expense of the president’s authorities.
The power struggle threatens to deepen divisions in a country trying to recover from the unrest that followed last year’s uprising against Hosni Mubarak.
The larger goal of Clinton’s visit is to establish ties with Mursi and other new stakeholders, the official said. She will underscore for them the importance the U.S. places on its relationship with Egypt and the role it plays in regional security.
In her meeting with Mursi, Clinton asked for details on how they plan to proceed with the transition to democracy, according to the State Department official, who added that she plans to ask Tantawi the same question today.
Where she provided advice, Clinton didn’t focus on specific elements so much as on principles that the U.S. thinks should guide the process, the official said. That advice included the need to ensure all stakeholders, including minority groups and women, have a role in Egypt’s transition, the official said.
In Clinton’s public remarks with Amr, she laid out a few of those principles. “Democracy is about more than holding elections and respecting the results, although that is essential,” Clinton said. “It takes an elected government that is empowered to govern, democratic institutions that protect the rights of all Egyptians all the time, no matter who wins an election in any particular year, an independent judiciary and a vibrant civil society.”
She also called for “an inclusive and transparent process to draft a new constitution that upholds universal rights and the rule of law, a constitution for all Egyptians.”
Clinton will underscore the need for an inclusive democracy by using part of her 36-hour visit to Cairo and Alexandria, the country’s economic hub, to meet with women, social activists and Christians.
To highlight U.S. determination to help Egypt’s economy recover, Clinton laid out details of a US$1 billion package announced last year by President Barack Obama. The money will be used for short-term funding and for a debt swap that will back job-creation efforts, the official said.
Clinton will visit a technology incubator funded by a U.S.- Egypt partnership. She’ll discuss a U.S.-Egypt Enterprise Fund, capitalized at US$60 million in its first year, that will invest in small- and medium-sized businesses to create jobs.
She also announced US$250 million in loan guarantees for small businesses and the visit a U.S. business delegation will make in September to examine investment opportunities.
She underscored the value of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel by reminding Mursi that, in the last 30 years, a generation of Egyptians have grown up without conflict, the State Department official said. And Clinton said that America’s and Egypt’s shared interests in non-proliferation, counter- terrorism, promoting peace and regional integration, outnumber their differences.