U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt’s military council, to urge a smooth transition to full democratic rule, a day after crowds protested her meeting with President Mohamed Mursi and the rising power of Islamists.
Tensions between Egypt’s new civilian leader and its senior generals, who took interim power after the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak last year, have risen since Tantawi’s council stripped Mursi of some of his powers and granted itself legislative authority after the court-ordered disbanding of the parliament. Egypt still has no constitution, a new government has yet to be named and the economy is struggling to recover from the uprising against Mubarak.
Since arriving in the country yesterday, Clinton has avoided any direct comment about the military’s power grab and repeatedly stressed that Egypt’s future is for its citizens to decide, not the U.S. A photo of her meeting today with Tantawi showed the two of them seated in plush, gold-hued armchairs, smiling as they chatted.
“I have come to Cairo to reaffirm the strong support of the United States for the Egyptian people and their democratic transition,” she said yesterday. “As you move forward, we will be there with support. Your choices will decide the future of this country.”
Clinton’s decision to meet Tantawi was a “provocative” act that contributes further to the political rift in the country by giving the impression that Egypt has two leaders, the Revolution Youth Union, one of the youth activist groups that participated in last year’s uprising, said in an e-mailed statement.
Mohamed el-Sayed, the group’s general coordinator, who is also a member of the committee charged with drafting the constitution, said in the statement that Clinton’s visit had gone beyond a diplomatic trip and entered into the realm of interfering in Egypt’s domestic affairs.
Security guards said an estimated 6,000 people crowded the street in front of Clinton’s hotel when she arrived in the capital of the Arab world’s most populous nation. The protesters set off fireworks, flashed lime-green laser lights and chanted as they waved Egyptian flags. One placard said, “Go to hell, Hillary.” Another, reflecting anti-Muslim Brotherhood sentiment, said “You like the Islamists, Hillary? Take them with you.”
Tomatoes, Shoes Thrown
Protesters threw tomatoes and shoes while chanting anti-Clinton slogans as she visited the U.S. consulate in Alexandria today. A tomato hit one Egyptian official in the face. Asked if Clinton or her vehicle, which were around the corner from the protesters, had been hit, a senior State Department official said, “of course not.”
Clinton visited Alexandria to formally open a new U.S. consulate, before continuing on to Israel. During her meeting with Mursi, she underscored the value of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, saying that in the last 30 years Egyptians have lived free of conflict.
Secularists and other groups have voiced concern that the priority of Islamists such as Mursi, who comes from the ranks of the Brotherhood, is to advance their own agenda and dominate politics at the expense of the broader national interest. Many say they are worried that the U.S. is lining up alongside the Brotherhood, which was the dominant group in parliament before the assembly was disbanded, and against the military.
National Security Role
Clinton said yesterday that the U.S. would like to see the military return to a “purely national security role.” She also spoke about the need for the Brotherhood and the generals to end their standoff by engaging in talks, and 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 met with Tantawi for just over an hour, according to a State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity. While Clinton discussed the political transition and the military council’s dialogue with Mursi, Tantawi said that what Egyptians need most now is help getting the economy back on track, the official said.
Clinton explained the economic package she outlined yesterday and spoke about the importance of protecting the rights of all Egyptians, including women and minorities. They also had an extensive discussion of security issues and regional stability, including regarding Sinai, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Libya, Sudan and Syria, the official said.
“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 during an appearance with Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr.
Clinton spent the morning in Cairo today meeting with Christian leaders, Egyptian women and a business for technology entrepreneurs named Flat6Labs.
Since the January 2011 uprising, Clinton and several other U.S. officials have come to Cairo for meetings in which she “showed her encouragement and that of the American administration to political Islam while ignoring all other civil political movements in Egypt,” said a statement emailed by billionaire Naguib Sawiris and three other prominent Copts.
The group said they see Clinton’s visit and “her wish to meet with Coptic politicians after she had met with Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi leaders in the past as a form of sectarian division that is rejected by the Egyptian people in general and the Copts in particular.”
In the meetings with Amr and Mursi, the Secretary of State outlined millions of dollars in economic assistance the U.S. is set to provide Egypt, giving details of a $1 billion package announced last year by President Barack Obama, according to another State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak on the record. The money will be used for short-term funding and for a debt swap that will back job-creation efforts, he said.
Clinton also explained the administration’s plans to support the country’s pursuit of financing from groups such as the International Monetary Fund, the official said. Talks with the IMF for a $3.2 billion loan have yet to be concluded.
Clinton discussed a U.S.-Egypt enterprise fund, capitalized at $60 million in its first year, that will invest in small and medium-sized businesses to create jobs. And she announced $250 million in loan guarantees for small businesses and said a U.S. business delegation will make a visit in September to examine investment opportunities.