US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has held her first talks with newly elected Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, as well as with military strongman Marshall Hussein Tantawi. Crowds took to the street to protest her visit.
Ms. Clinton said she was in Egypt to push for completion of post-revolutionary change in the country and for economic restoration. She stressed that the United States wants “to support the democracy” achieved by “the courage and sacrifice of the Egyptian people.”
One of the issues discussed by Clinton and Morsi was whether Egypt would continue to follow its previous foreign policy course. Egyptian foreign minister Kamal Amr told reporters at a news conference with Clinton that President Morsi would continue to respect “all peace treaties that Egypt is a party to – as long as the other party also respects them.”
Other key issues were the political transition and the resulting tensions in Egypt itself. Clinton said that resolving the crisis between the military and the Islamists, which has dogged the country’s political scene in recent months, “requires dialogue and compromise, real politics.”
On the second day of her visit, the US Secretary of State met with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), who served as the country’s provisional head of state from February 2011 to July 2012. He was commended by Clinton for having protected the Egyptian revolution, “unlike the Syrian army.”
Few details of the hour-long meeting, which was much more low-key than previous talks with the president, were released. However, a US State Department official said Clinton and Tantawi had discussed the political transition and economic matters, including an aid package.
Ahead of the meeting, she called on the Egyptian military to give President Morsi full powers and to return to its essential national security function. She also said the US would forgive $1 billion in Egyptian debt and would provide $280 million for the country’s economic development. The aid comes on top of the $1.3 billion the US provides to the Egyptian military.
Soon after meeting with Clinton, Field Marshall Tantawi said the country’s armed forces would not allow a “certain group” to dominate the country. Though he did not specify which group he meant, his words were a clear allusion to the Muslim Brotherhood, who are now in control of the presidency and the legislature.
This statement underscored the political tension between the two groups in control of the country: the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Tensions between the two have been simmering throughout the transitional period that followed Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. The Muslim Brotherhood, along with other Islamists, won the largest number of seats in the country’s parliamentary elections, which took place over several stages between November and February.
Political parties then tried to come to an agreement on the composition of a panel that was to be set up to draft the country’s constitution. The Islamists in parliament tried to fill the panel with their own supporters, but that move was thwarted by Cairo’s Administrative Court amid a boycott of liberals and secularists.
Bickering between the parties ensued, and an agreement was only reached in June. By that time, however, a new political crisis had emerged.
Shortly before the second round of the presidential elections, the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court annulled the results of the parliamentary poll, effectively dissolving the lower chamber of parliament.
Several days later, the SCAF issued a decree delegating itself a number of legislative and budgetary powers and abrogating those of the president. The decree also allowed the SCAF to appoint members of the constitutional panel, with additional powers to veto the panel’s decisions.
Soon after Mohammed Morsi stepped into his position on June 30, he issued an executive decree allowing parliament to reconvene. The decree also granted the legislature powers to draft a constitution instead of the ad hoc panel. The move appears to have deepened the crisis between the two branches of power, namely the Islamist-dominated legislature, backed by the president, and the military-backed courts.
In the latest development, just as Hillary Clinton was meeting with Tantawi on Sunday, Cairo’s Appeals Court refused to look into a lawsuit filed by parliamentary speaker Saad El-Katani, who challenged last month’s decision to dissolve the legislature. The case now heads to Cairo’s Administrative Court.
Blogger and journalist Wael Eskander believes the US is not backing either of the sides in Egypt’s internal political conflict.
“Washington has always been supporting the power structures that serve its purposes, irrespective of whether they are democratic or not,” Eskander told RT. “So, currently, they really don’t care what kind of forces are there as long as they give the US what it actually requires.”
He said that what the US is trying to do now is to see who will win the political battle and reinforce the power structure that results from it.
Middle East expert and independent journalist Larry Everest says that the troubles of the Egyptians are the last thing on Clinton’s agenda.
“Hillary Clinton claims she is there to help the Egyptian people themselves to determine their future but that’s not what’s going on,” he told RT. Washington is “working in a very fraught situation to make sure the Egyptian military, with which they have deep and long-standing ties, remains the dominant force in the Egyptian state as it remains today.”
For years, Cairo has been receiving from Washington around US $1.5 billion in aid annually. Most of this money goes to its military.
“The US remains a dominant power [in the region]. It’s trying to maintain that dominance in the new situation, with new tactics in the wake of the Arab Spring,” Everest added.