Nearly two weeks after the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi, the Obama administration appears to be quietly trying to mop up some of the mess it created with its handling of the revolution against the Muslim Brotherhood.
But it’s still insisting that the Islamists who were the impetus for the massive protests and ouster in the first place be part of the solution.
America’s diplomatic presence in Egypt has been seriously soured by missteps including Ambassador Anne Patterson discouraging the epic protests against Islamist rule on June 30 and reportedly trying to discourage Coptic Christians from taking part.
Both President Obama and Patterson were lambasted by protesters as propping up the Muslim Brotherhood and sanctioning the Islamists’ abuses against the Egyptian people.
Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns went to Cairo on Saturday for a visit scheduled through Tuesday. Burns is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit since the overthrow. “In all these meetings, he will underscore U.S. support for the Egyptian people, an end to all violence, and a transition leading to an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government,” the State Department said in its announcement, noticeably urging the inclusivity that signaled in the administration’s first responses that they want the Muslim Brotherhood to remain part of the political picture.
Burns maintained that the U.S. “as outsiders” would not “support particular political personalities and particular parties.”
“What we’re going to continue to try to do is to support an open inclusive, tolerant democratic process,” he told reporters. “We hope it will be a chance to learn some of the lessons and correct some of the mistakes of the last two years.”
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said today that Burns has met with Interim President Adly Mansour, interim vice president for international relations Mohamed ElBaradei, and Defense Minister Abdul Fatah Al-Sisi, as well as “a group of business leaders, a group of human rights activists, a group of Coptic bishops.”
“He has not met with a member of — or a representative from the Muslim Brotherhood. Again, I don’t have an update beyond what he’s done to date,” she said. “As you know, we are in very regular contact with all groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood.”
“The message that he has been communicating to all the officials is about the importance of having an inclusive process and the steps that they take from here towards that.”
Psaki had no comment on the Tamarod opposition movement’s boycott of a roundtable hosted by Patterson for Burns’ visit. The rebel movement refused to participate out of protest over the way the U.S. approached their revolution.
“He did say that despite our concerns about the developments of the past two weeks, we believe that the ongoing transition is another opportunity, following the January 25th revolution, to create a democratic state that protects human rights and the rule of law, and that enable economic prosperity among all of its citizens,” Psaki said of Burns’ meetings. “And he encouraged the interim government to continue to take steps to be inclusive of all sides as they work toward the process moving forward.”
She wouldn’t disclose whether the U.S. knew of Morsi’s whereabouts, but said the U.S. continues to call for his release.
The CIA’s regularly updated online database of world leaders still lists Morsi as president of Egypt.
“It’s for the Egyptian people to decide what his role will be moving forward,” Psaki added. “…We believe that President Morsi was democratically elected. The question is the steps that were taken from there, and we have talked about quite a bit the voices of 22 million people.”
The take from Egyptian media is that the neighborly meetings were more of a debate between the U.S. and the interim government about Egypt’s future.
According to Al-Ahram, Burns and Patterson met with al-Sisi, the general who announced both Morsi’s ultimatum and his ouster, for two hours Monday, where al-Sisi reportedly had to explain to Burns why the Muslim Brotherhood was bad and leading the country on the road to ruin.
“US aid was touched on during the meeting, where the army claimed that the US is more keen than Egypt on keeping the military aid as an assurance of the continuation of military ties between the two countries,” Al-Ahram reported.
Egypt’s new cabinet began to take shape with appointments including World Bank veteran Ahmed Jalal as finance minister and soccer legend Taher Abouzeid as sports minister. The cabinet, which will be formally unveiled this week, is free of Muslim Brotherhood members and Salafists. A handful of women and two Copts are said to be among the appointees, including the appointment of Inas Abdel Dayem as the first female culture minister in a move guaranteed to anger Islamists.
And the presence of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and Al-Azhar Grand Mufti Ahmed al-Tayeb at al-Sisi’s side when the ouster of Morsi was announced is more than a photo op — representatives of the two faith leaders will be at the center of a new reconciliation committee to make progress on the “road map” for a new Egypt.
An adviser to the mufti told Asharq Al-Awsat that the reconciliation committee “will endeavor to reunite the parties and bring together those who have shed blood.”
Egyptian prosecutors ordered the arrests of more Muslim Brotherhood members today for “inciting violence, funding violent acts, and thuggery,” according to Al-Ahram.
The fever of Tamarod rebellion — and first-stage petition-gathering — seen by many as the needed completion of the Arab Spring has spread to Libya as well, where residents in the post-Gadhafi era are frustrated by a weak government that’s proven ineffectual at countering the Islamist brigades trying to gain a foothold in the power vacuum, and to Tunisia, where Islamists rule and Salafists intimidate political opponents.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said Sunday that he’s “encouraged” by the developments in Egypt as pro-Morsi demonstrators continue their protests.
“When the Arab Spring occurred in Egypt and Libya and across northern Africa, and now we’re dealing with this in Syria, to see the Muslim Brotherhood come to the heights of power, suspending all other authorities in the government and then imposing Sharia law on their people, I’ve been greatly troubled by this Arab Spring really becoming an Arab winter,” McCaul said on Fox. “I think the military in Egypt is the most stabilizing factor in Egypt. And I think we should support the military in their efforts in ousting the Muslim Brotherhood, and arresting the Muslim Brotherhood and bringing a more secular, moderate form of government to Egypt.”