Clinton talks democracy with Egypt’s generalsBy: Jo Biddle
CAIRO – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held talks yesterday with Egypt’s top military leaders, just hours after calling for them to help smooth the country’s full transition to democracy.
The top US diplomat arrived in Egypt amid a complex power struggle being played out between the newly-elected Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf).
A day after her first meeting with Mursi, Clinton met with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi – the country’s interim military ruler after president Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year ending three decades in power.
“They discussed the political transition and the Scaf’s ongoing dialogue with President Morsi,” a state department official told reporters after the talks that lasted just over an hour.
The two also discussed an economic package proposed by Clinton and “Tantawi stressed that this is what Egyptians need most now, help getting the economy back on track,” the official said.
Clinton has repeatedly called on the military to respect the outcome of the elections and told a news conference her talks with Tantawi would focus on “working to support the military’s return to a purely national security role.”
Mursi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, is locked in a stand-off with the military after he ordered parliament to reconvene, defying an army decision to disband the house.
But a declaration issued by the Scaf before Mursi was sworn in – which acts as a temporary constitution – granted the military sweeping powers, including legislative control, even though they handed over to Mursi on June 30.
While Mursi’s decree was applauded by supporters, it set off a firestorm of criticism from opponents who accused him of overstepping his authority.
Choosing her words carefully in the politically-charged atmosphere, Clinton said “it is very clear that Egyptians are in the midst of complex negotiations about the transition” including the make-up of parliament, a new constitution and the full powers of the president.”
“Democracy is hard,” she said. “It requires dialogue and compromise and real politics. We are encouraged and we want to be helpful. But we know that it is not for the United States to decide, it is for the Egyptian people to decide.”
The United States supported the full transition to civilian rule, Clinton said, adding however she wanted to commend the military council “for representing the Egyptian people in the revolution.”
“As compared to what we are seeing in Syria which is the military murdering their own people, the Scaf here protected the Egyptian nation,” and had overseen free elections, Clinton said.
“But there is more work ahead, and I think the issues around the parliament, the constitution have to be resolved between and among Egyptians.”
Hundreds of protesters had gathered outside the US embassy and later Clinton’s hotel to denounce what they said was “US interference in domestic affairs,” the official MENA news agency reported.