Kerry sees signs Egypt moving back towards democracy

CAIRO Sun Nov 3, 2013 5:15pm EST

1 of 4. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (2nd R) meets with Egypt's Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy (2nd L) in Cairo November 3, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

Related Video

Related Topics

CAIRO (Reuters) - A day before Egypt's deposed Islamist president goes on trial, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday expressed guarded optimism about a return to democracy in the country during a tour partly aimed at easing tensions with major Arab powers.

On his first visit to Egypt since the army removed president Mohamed Mursi in July, Kerry called for fair, transparent trials for all citizens. However, he described Cairo as a vital partner to the United States and the region, as he tried to repair relations hurt by a partial freeze in U.S. aid.

Kerry said the relationship between the United States and Egypt should not be defined by aid but by a partnership, and promised to launch talks on a U.S.-Egypt strategic dialogue.

Senior State Department officials said Kerry did not raise Mursi's trial in his meetings with interim President Adly Mansour and army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the man who deposed Mursi.

Instead, he stressed that politically motivated and arbitrary arrests should be avoided and were unacceptable to the United States, according to the officials who briefed reporters.

"There was definitely no conscious decision not to raise it," one of the officials said.

Referring to his recent comment that the Egyptian generals were restoring democracy when they deposed Mursi after mass protests against his rule, Kerry said: "Thus far there are indications that this is what they are intending to do."

Relations between the United States and Egypt have deteriorated since Mursi's overthrow, which unleashed violence in which hundreds have died, even though the government has published a "road map" for an eventual return to democracy.

Kerry said the democratic roadmap was "being carried out to the best of our conceptions."

The State Department officials said during talks Kerry had stressed the importance sticking to the roadmap's timelines and that stability was essential to rebuild the economy.

"NOT A PUNISHMENT"

Washington has repeatedly urged the interim government to act with restraint in cracking down on Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters.

Kerry acknowledged that last month's decision by President Barack Obama to freeze some military aid as well as $260 million in cash, pending progress on democracy and human rights, had not gone down well in Cairo.

"We knew that in some places obviously that wouldn't be well received, but it's not a punishment," he told a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy. "President Obama has actually worked very, very hard to be able to make certain that we're not disrupting the relationship with Egypt."

Egypt has long been the second-largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel, with the military receiving $1.3 billion a year. However, Fahmy, who emphasized the "turbulent" state of U.S.-Egyptian ties, told Reuters on Saturday that Egypt would look beyond the United States to meet its security needs.

Washington has also held up the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to the Egyptian air force, a subject that was not raised on Sunday, according to State Department officials.

In August the army crushed two pro-Mursi protest camps and has arrested thousands of Islamist supporters, including many Brotherhood leaders.

A court order has also banned the group, Egypt's oldest Islamist movement, and seized its funds. Mursi, who has been held incommunicado since his overthrow, is due to face charges of inciting violence with 14 other senior Brotherhood figures.

The State Department officials said Kerry had pressed the interim authorities to persuade the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups that they would be included in Egypt's future political system if unrest and rioting by supporters stopped.

SAUDI STRAINS

Kerry arrived in Saudi Arabia late on Sunday, a major donor to Egypt's interim army-backed government, where he was met by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal. The kingdom has become frustrated with Washington perceived inaction in Syria, its diplomatic engagement with Iran and lukewarm attitude toward the military-backed government in Egypt.

Kerry meets King Abdullah on Monday, his first since becoming America's top diplomat in February.

It will also be his first visit since a senior Saudi prince last month warned that the kingdom could "shift away" from the United States, suggesting a major strategic change after decades of close military and economic cooperation. In Washington, officials saw the threat as mostly rhetoric.

The White House has shown an increased willingness to risk strains with allies to pursue U.S. goals of avoiding military intervention in Syria and seeking a nuclear deal with Iran, Saudi Arabia's chief regional rival.

A senior State Department official, who requested anonymity, played down suggestions of a major rift with Riyadh.

However, the official acknowledged that Saudi Arabia opposes any Iranian participation in proposed Syria peace talks to end its 2-1/2 civil war. In addition, the Saudis expressed concern over Washington's recent talks with Iran about its nuclear program, according to the official.

In Cairo, Kerry downplayed the severity of differences between Washington and some of its allies.

"For instance there are some countries in the region that wanted the United States to do one thing with respect to Syria and we have done something else. Those differences on an individual tactic on policy do not create a difference on the fundamental goal of the policy," he said.

Kerry will make clear to the Saudis that Iran would not be welcome to attend the Syria peace talks in Geneva unless it endorsed a past agreement that would see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad give up power, the official noted.

"Iran has not done that, and without that even we couldn't consider the possibility of their participating," the official added, stressing: "It is a question of just making sure they understand the details of how firm our position is."

On ending the stalemate with Tehran over its nuclear program, the official said: "We frankly completely agree with the Saudis about their concerns."

In addition to Riyadh, Jerusalem and Bethlehem, Kerry will make stops in Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria and Morocco.

(Writing by Lesley Wroughton and Yara Bayoumy; Editing by David Stamp and Will Waterman)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (21)
s.c.n. wrote:
There is no doubt that the U.S and Israel had something to do with the military takeover. The people of egypt will have to keep on having election until they get it right in the eyes of the west.

Nov 03, 2013 5:51am EST  --  Report as abuse
Arnleif wrote:
-”Kerry sees indications Egypt moving towards democracy”.

Well ignoring the fact that the US supported military junta who ruled Egypt with an iron fist for 30 years is back in power. Further ignoring the obvious fact that ANY critical and opposition to military rule is dealt with in an extremely harsh and brutal manner. The little freedom of expression and freedom to organize gained a few years back in the first uprising, are gone.

It do not matter if it is labor unions or religious factions, any form of political organizing is labeled “Islamists”. In countries where Muslims are a majority it is “Islamists”, in other countries it is “radical populous movements”, or “communism”. Whatever suits the situation for the US to support a suppressive regime to serve US interests, which funny enough are proclaimed to be “democracy”.

Well I assume it would be too radical by any media to ask Kerry to provide specific evidence to back up such a statement. US government statements have zero value to many people, and US government only has itself to blame for that.

On the other hand, perhaps there is truism to Kerry`s statement. There are allot of people within the military regime in Egypt now warning that the continuous suppression of people in Egypt might lead to another uprising. So in that sense, Egypt might be moving towards democracy…..but I do not think that is what Kerry meant.

Nov 03, 2013 8:09am EST  --  Report as abuse
grusc64153 wrote:
“Kerry sees indications Egypt moving towards democracy” Well, I guess so! After having pulled the magic carpet out from under the Egyptian relationship and trying to dictate to them what they should do to earn our approval, the Egyptians started courting the Russians again. Betcha the lawn-jockey-in-chief didn’t see that comin’! Now it’s time for some serious CYA and hope to reverse what should have NEVER been put in motion to begin with. I believe it is too late; the vacillating administration in DC has proven – again and again – that if it will not protect its own ambassadorial staff (Benghazi) then agreements with other international “partners” are not worth the paper they’re written on in BLOOD!

Nov 03, 2013 8:39am EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.