Clinton Offers Aid to Egypt’s Feuding Leaders

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has ended two days of talks with Egypt’s quarrelling civilian and military leaders, offering them U.S. assistance for the struggling Egyptian economy without publicly taking sides in their ongoing power struggle.

A U.S. State Department official said Clinton discussed U.S. aid proposals in a meeting with Egyptian military chief Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi in Cairo on Sunday. The official said Tantawi told Clinton that reviving the Egyptian economy is a priority for the country. Clinton revealed details of the U.S. aid pledge on Saturday, when she held talks with Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, who took office last month.

VOA correspondent Scott Stearns, who is traveling with Clinton, said debt relief is a major part of the U.S. package.

“In both her talks with President Morsi and Field Marshal Tantawi, she discussed the U.S. ability to help the Egyptian economy,” said Stearns. “The political instability here in Egypt has really hurt economic growth and tourism revenue. So, U.S. President Barack Obama is proposing package of debt relief that could go as high as $1 billion. Tantawi said that’s really the chief priority now, that’s what Egyptians need – a better economy.”

Other U.S. aid proposals include a $60 million fund for Egypt’s small- and medium-sized businesses and $250 million in private-sector loan guarantees. Stearns said Egypt will have to negotiate the terms of the broader debt relief package with the United States but that process cannot begin until Morsi forms a Cabinet.

The U.S. State Department official said Clinton also urged Tantawi to protect the rights of all Egyptians, including women and minorities, as military leaders and President Morsi try to resolve disputes about the country’s political transition.

A Tantawi-led military council transferred the leadership of the country to Morsi after he won the country’s first free presidential election in a military-supervised vote. But, days before Morsi’s inauguration, the military council stripped the presidency of much of its power and disbanded an elected lower house of parliament dominated by his Islamist allies. Mr. Morsi ordered the assembly to reconvene in defiance of the military.

The power struggle has left the United States in a delicate position with Egypt, a longtime ally ruled for decades by military figures who suppressed Islamist opposition movements.

Speaking Saturday, Clinton urged the Egyptian military to return to a “purely national security role.” But, she also said it is up to the Egyptian people to determine their democratic development through dialogue and compromise, not the United States.

After Sunday’s meeting, Tantawi said the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces “respects” the country’s legislative and executive authorities. But, he also warned that the military will not allow anyone to undermine its role in protecting Egypt.

Clinton later told a group of Egyptian businesswomen that democracy requires more than just elections. She said it also involves the “majority … protecting the rights of the minority.” The top U.S. diplomat said Washington is committed to “advancing the rights of all Egyptians – men and women, Muslim and Christian” – and wants any elected government in Egypt to be inclusive.

Clinton was due to depart for Israel late Sunday.

VOA