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Clinton urges Egypt's military chief to cooperate with new president

July 15, 2012 |  2:04 pm

CAIRO — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Egypt’s top military commander Sunday to discuss the nation’s transition to civilian rule and urge the general to cooperate with newly elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.

But hours after his meeting with Clinton, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi suggested that the power struggle between the army and the Islamists was not over. He told reporters that the military would not allow a "certain group" to dominate the country, referring to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, which controlled nearly half of the recently dissolved parliament.

“Egypt is for all Egyptians and not for a certain faction,” he said after a army command ceremony in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia. Tantawi has so far not responded to U.S. pressure to loosen the army’s grip on the nation, which receives $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid. 

Clinton’s meeting with Tantawi came a day after her talks with Morsi, whose authority has been hemmed in by the military controls of legislative and many executive powers. She said the U.S. would “work to support the military’s return to a purely national-security role.”

The military and the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, are Egypt’s two dominating political forces. The army took control of the country after former President Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a popular uprising last year and has been resistant to hand power to Morsi, who ran as a candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood. 

The generals are still in conflict with Islamists and other political parties over Egypt’s disbanded parliament and the military’s constitutional decree, which gives it the authority to control the military budget, challenge constitutional clauses, and to veto the president’s power to declare war.

After Morsi issued a decree to temporarily reinstate parliament, which the military dissolved following a court ruling, the generals released a strongly worded statement urging all Egyptians to respect the rule of law. The Supreme Constitutional Court also overturned the president’s decree, enraging the president and members of the Freedom and Justice Party.

After meeting with Tantawi, Clinton held separate talks Sunday with members of Egypt’s Christian community, female leaders and young entrepreneurs. The Evangelical Church and several members of the Coptic community refused to take part in the meeting, criticizing it as foreign interference in Egypt’s internal affairs. 

“We are committed to protecting and advancing the rights of all Egyptians — men and women, Muslim and Christian. Everyone who is a citizen of Egypt deserves the same rights under the law,” Clinton said to a group of women leaders.

During her visit to the coastal city of Alexandria to open a new U.S. consulate, Egyptians hurled shoes and tomatoes at Clinton’s motorcade.  Protesters said they objected to Clinton’s meeting with the military as well as with Morsi, who they say is concerned more with the Muslim Brotherhood’s interests than the Egyptian public. They also criticized U.S. foreign policy in Egypt, fearing that America would once again side with the rulers' interests and not the people. 

As the effects of the so-called Arab Spring ripple throughout the region, the U.S., a longtime ally of Mubarak, has moved to reevaluate its foreign policy. While ruling Egypt autocratically for three decades, Mubarak’s administration was keen on keeping Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel as well as mediating peace talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Although Morsi has reiterated the importance of keeping international agreements, he also said he would never take a decision that would “overstep the will” of the Egyptian people. 

With a battered economy and a country to rebuild, many Egyptians do not believe in ending the peace treaty, but they are also not keen on normalizing relations with their Israeli neighbors. In her meeting with Morsi, Clinton said they discussed the importance of keeping the peace treaty for the sake of stability for both nations, as well as the region. 

Later on Sunday, Clinton traveled to Israel.

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— Reem Abdellatif

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