In Cairo, Clinton Treads Lightly Amid Egypt’s Fractious Political Factions

July 16, 2012
By , The New York Times

CAIRO — Several prominent Egyptian Christians boycotted a meeting on Sunday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, objecting to what they said was interference by the United States inEgypt’s politics in order to aid an Islamist rise to power.

Clergy members and other who did attend complained to Mrs. Clinton that the United States seemed to be siding with Egypt’s newly elected president, Mohamed Morsi, a former leader in the Muslim Brotherhood, in his power struggle with the country’s military council.

Though there is little evidence that Mr. Morsi needed American help gaining power, or received it, the complaints reflect persistent concerns among Christians about Islamist rule and underscore the difficulties Mrs. Clinton has faced during her two-day visit to Cairo, treading through the minefield of a transition laden with political feuds and ideological splits.

Constrained by an almost complete mistrust of the United States’ motives in Egypt, Mrs. Clinton has sought to use her only leverage — economic assistance — to try to coax the military and Mr. Morsi toward resolving their rift. While the Obama administration has often called for a speedy transition to civilian rule, Mrs. Clinton avoided making any specific public prescriptions here, favoring language instead that called for Egyptian solutions along with respect for minority rights.

After meeting Mr. Morsi on Saturday, Mrs. Clinton sat down on Sunday morning with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the leader of the military council that took power after President Hosni Mubarak was deposed last year. The military still retains broad legislative and executive authority, having seized further powers before the presidential election in June.

After the meeting, which lasted a little over an hour, a senior State Department official said Field Marshal Tantawi and Mrs. Clinton had discussed the economy, regional security, “the political transition” and the military’s “ongoing dialogue with President Morsi.”

Field Marshal Tantawi stressed that Egyptians need “help getting the economy back on track,” the official said. “The secretary stressed the importance of protecting the rights of all Egyptians, including women and minorities.”

But just hours after the meeting, Mrs. Clinton appeared to have achieved little reconciliation between the two sides. Field Marshal Tantawi, addressing a military ceremony, seemed eager to revive his dispute with Mr. Morsi, who was traveling in Ethiopia. “Egypt will not fall,” he said. “It is for all Egyptians, not for a certain group — the armed forces will not allow that.” The comments were widely interpreted as referring to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Later on Sunday, in a break from politics, Mrs. Clinton met with young entrepreneurs, marveling at one man’s proposal to build a Web site connecting doctors with patients. “This is an idea that’s going to spread beyond Egypt,” she told the man, Mostafa Nageeb, 21.

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