(Corrects name of Qatar’s foreign minister in second paragraph after ‘Saudi Arabia’ subheadline of story published Aug. 3.)
Secretary of State John Kerry said Egypt’s army was “restoring democracy” after it toppled elected President Mohamed Mursi, then tempered his remarks and signaled a renewed U.S. diplomatic push to end the country’s political standoff.
“The temporary government has a responsibility” to Mursi loyalists to let them “demonstrate in peace,” Kerry said in London yesterday. “At the same time, the demonstrators have a responsibility” to let Egypt establish “a new normal,” he said before a meeting to discuss the crisis with Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the United Arab Emirates foreign minister.
Kerry spurred criticism in Washington and Cairo when he appeared to go further than any other U.S. official in justifying the military’s ouster of Mursi on July 3. The American government has had close ties to Egypt’s military for three decades, and President Barack Obama’s administration has declined to call Mursi’s ouster a coup. Doing so would have required the U.S. to suspend about $1.3 billion in annual military aid.
Egypt’s army “was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people,” Kerry told Pakistan’s Geo TV Aug. 1 in Islamabad. The military “did not take over to the best of our judgment,” and by replacing Mursi with a civilian government, “in effect they were restoring democracy,” he said.
Asked if he was excusing the killing of hundreds of people in protests following Mursi’s removal, Kerry called the violence “absolutely unacceptable” and described the political crisis as “very confusing and very difficult.”
Kerry’s comments reflect the challenge the U.S. faces in advocating democratic principles while trying to convince all sides in Egypt to accept new elections and a new constitution, without returning to office a president from the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood party who has alienated much of the electorate.
Yesterday, Kerry signaled that the U.S. is ramping up its outreach to groups in Egypt and its Arab neighbors. He is encouraging an “inclusive” process to end the standoff that’s crippling the economy and threatening to trigger more violence.
Kerry dispatched his deputy, Bill Burns, to Egypt on a mission to listen to all parties, including the Brotherhood leadership, whom he didn’t meet during a mid-July visit. The U.S. is seeking a compromise that avoids prolonged demonstrations or a violent crackdown, officials said.
At a meeting with Burns today, officials from Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed the interim government’s commitment to achieving national reconciliation with all political forces and said it would refrain from all forms of violence, according to a ministry statement.
Burns extended his visit to Cairo by a day and was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Hazem El Beblawi and Defense Minister Abdelfatah al-Seesi, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported.
A delegation of Mursi supporters will meet with Burns today, Gehad el-Haddad, a Brotherhood spokesman, said on the Twitter Inc. website. The group, representing the Freedom and Justice and al-Wasat parties as well as the Brotherhood, will press for “rejection to the coup,” he said.
In their meeting yesterday, Kerry asked his Emirati counterpart to urge the interim Egyptian government to refrain from using force in dealing with protesters, according to an official in Washington close to the talks who spoke on condition of not being identified because he wasn’t authorized to comment. Kerry asked the sheikh to use his influence with the caretaker authorities to encourage engaging with opponents.
Last month, Emirati leaders pledged $3 billion in support to Egypt’s interim government. Along with Saudi Arabia, which said it would supply $5 billion, the U.A.E. was among the leading critics of the Mursi government.
A State Department official who spoke on condition of not being identified said Kerry also made seven telephone calls in the past week to Khalid bin Mohamed Al-Attiyah, the foreign minister of Qatar, whose government is most closely aligned with the Brotherhood. The Persian Gulf state provided Egypt with billions of dollars of aid during Mursi’s year in office.
Kerry also made nine calls in the past week to the interim Egyptian president, vice president and foreign minister, the department official said.
That outreach is part of a bid to encourage restraint and a political compromise by all parties, according to an adviser to the interim Egyptian government who asked not to be identified.
The adviser said Egypt’s interim leaders want to stop the protests because they are slowing the transition to new elections and revival of the economy, yet they realize that in the eyes of world opinion, the best course would be to let Brotherhood supporters continue sit-ins.
Brotherhood supporters massed in Cairo and other cities after prayers yesterday to demand Mursi’s reinstatement. The clashes injured 34 people, including 25 during protests by Brotherhood supporters at Media Production City on the outskirts of Cairo, state-run Ahram Gate website reported, citing Khaled El-Khatib, a health ministry official.
The south Giza prosecution today started investigating 35 suspects in connection with yesterday’s attempt to storm the media complex, MENA reported.
A pro-Mursi alliance, comprising Brotherhood members and Islamist parties, called on Egyptians to demonstrate across the country tomorrow, according to a statement on the Muslim Brotherhood’s website. Their calls for continued rallies are fueling concern that fresh violence may arise after dozens of protesters were killed a week ago.
The Interior Ministry warned of a crackdown on pro-Mursi sit-ins in two of the capital’s main squares, promising safe conduct to those who left immediately.
Since July 3, authorities have rounded up Islamist leaders and frozen their assets. This week, the Brotherhood’s top official, Mohammed Badie, was charged with incitement to murder.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at email@example.com