US Secretary of State Hillary met with recently elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on Saturday and, on Sunday, along with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of Egypt’s military council, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF).
Long-existing tensions between Morsi and Tantawi, between the Islamists and the military, have heightened since the generals dissolved the Islamist-dominated Parliament on the eve of the presidential election in early June and assigned legislative and executive powers to themselves. The uneasy relations have remained following Morsi’s election. The new President has called for Parliament to reconvene, but Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court has upheld the disbanding.
Egypt has no constitution, no new government yet and an economy still foundering after last year’s revolution.
“Go to Hell, Hillary”: Protests Over’s Clinton’s Meeting With Morsi
Clinton offered what the New York Times termed a “muted pledge of support” for Morsi, an Islamist who was more than once imprisoned by Hosni Mubarak’s “American-backed autocracy” (and indeed, during the 18-day uprising in 2011). Clinton declared that the US “supports the full transition to civilian rule with all that entails,” said the US emphasizes the need for “building consensus across the Egyptian political spectrum” and spoke delicately about the SCAF’s continued hold on power. She also said that, in September, she would send a “large business delegation” to Cairo, to strength business ties between the US and Egypt.
Clinton is the highest-ranking US official to meet Morsi. Her reserved tone reflects a sense that “American attempts to intercede may be futile in a contest where the outcome remains uncertain, all the players are deeply suspicious of American motives, and almost any statement could elicit a popular backlash.” According to the New York Times, Clinton had planned on Monday to give “what was billed as a major speech about the Egyptian democracy” in Alexandria, where she will formally open a new consulate but, given Egypt’s uncertain political climate, she has called off the speech.
Indeed, crowds of at least 6,000 protested Clinton’s meeting with Morsi. Placards proclaiming “Go to hell, Hillary” and “You like the Islamists, Hillary? Take them with you” did not hesitate to make their points.
Clinton’s Meeting With Tantawi Called a “Provocative Act”
Clinton’s Sunday visit with Tantawi, during which she said that the US would like to see the Egyptian military return to a “purely national security role” was considered “provocative” by the Revolution Youth Union, one of the youth groups in last year’s revolution. The group’s general coordinator, Mohamed el-Sayed, said that Clinton was interfering in Egypt’s internal affairs by meeting Tantawi; prominent members of Egypt’s Coptic community refused to meet with her. Some secularist opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi’s party, have even accused the US of conspiring with the Islamists.
In her hour-long meeting with Tantawi, Clinton called for the need to protect the rights of all Egyptians, including women and minorities, and also discussed security issues and regional stability, including the Sinai, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Libya, Sudan and Syria. She also described plans for $250 milion in loan guarantees to Egyptian small and medium-sized businesses and the creation of a US-Egypt enterprise fund of some $60 million.
Mentions to Withhold Aid: Only Empty Threats?
Clinton said that she would work with Congress and the Egyptian government regarding the delivery of a $1 billion aid package that President Obama pledged a year ago. Congress has required that Clinton certify that Egypt is taking actual steps down towards democracy to ensure it receives its current $1.5 billion in annual aid, including $1.3 million for military support.
Threats to withhold the aid — as when, last December, the Egyptian government declared that three American-backed groups chartered to promote democracy were operating illegally and arrested their employees, who fled to the US Embassy in Cairo and still face criminal charges and jail terms — have been ineffectual. Tantawi has also ignored requests from Anne W. Patterson, the American ambassador to Egypt, not to shut down the Parliament.
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Photo by Max Braun