In Egypt, Clinton Fends Off Allegations of U.S. Support for Muslim Brotherhood
At various stops in Cairo and Alexandria this past weekend, demonstrators protested her visit, with one liberal youth organization, the Front for Peaceful Change, issuing a statement accusing the U.S. of making secret deals with the Muslim Brotherhood.
An article on the anti-Clinton protests in Al-Wafd, a daily newspaper published by the liberal Wafd Party, carried the headline, “The she-devil in the presidential palace.”
Some prominent Coptic Christian activists and lawmakers in the – currently suspended – parliament refused to meet with Clinton.
A joint statement from four of them accused the U.S. of demonstrating its support for Islamists above other political forces in Egypt – an allegation frequently aired over recent months in Egyptian media and on social networking Web sites.
One of the four, lawmaker and political analyst Emad Gad, told Al-Ahram newspaper the U.S. government had also secretly agreed to back Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi – now sworn in as president – in return for assurances that a Morsi government would not restore ties with Iran and would pressurize the Palestinian group Hamas into halting attacks against Israel.
(Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, set up by the Egyptian organization in 1987. The group, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 amid bloody fighting against the Fatah faction, is designated by the U.S. as a “foreign terrorist organization.”)
Gad predicted that President Obama would face accusations during his election campaign of having backed Islamists in the region at the expense of non-Islamist forces.
The other three Egyptians who signed the statement refusing to meet with Clinton were lawmaker Georgette Qilliny, business tycoon and founder of the small liberal Free Egyptians Party Naguib Sawiris, and Coptic political activist and head of the liberal Haya Party Michael Mounir.
Speaking at a flag-raising ceremony at the newly-reopened U.S. Consulate in Alexandria late Sunday, Clinton raised the charges of U.S. interference in the election.
“Now, I well understand – and I heard it today from many different voices – that Egyptian media can be quite creative in depicting my country. And I know some Egyptians have doubts about where we stand,” she said.
“In fact, I’ve heard it argued over the last 18 months that America spoke too loudly, and America spoke too softly; that America spoke too early, and America spoke too late. And I’ve heard it that we support one faction in Egypt’s politics and then only weeks later, I hear that we are supporting another faction in Egypt’s politics,” Clinton continued.
“And I want to be clear that the United States is not in the business in Egypt of choosing winners and losers – even if we could, which of course we cannot. We are prepared to work with you as you chart your course, as you establish your democracy.”
During her visit – which included separate meetings with Morsi and Egypt’s top general, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi – Clinton did meet Sunday with what she described afterwards as “a group of Christian leaders who had many issues that they wanted to raise directly with me.”
“I came to Cairo in part to send a very clear message that the United States supports the rights – the universal rights – of all people,” she said.
At the Alexandria consulate later in the day, Clinton mentioned the visit again, saying the Christians she met with “have legitimate concerns.”
As Clinton left the ceremony, protestors pelted her motorcade with tomatoes and shoes; a U.S. official said none hit her or her vehicle.
‘We have not supported any candidate’
Briefing reporters on Sunday, a senior State Department official said Clinton had stressed U.S. non-interference during her meeting with the Christians.
“There’s been a statement put out that somehow the U.S. has put its finger on the scale in favor of one side or another in this transition,” the official said.
“And she wanted in very, very clear terms – particularly with the Christian group this morning – to dispel that notion and to make clear that only Egyptians can choose their leaders, that we have not supported any candidate, any party, and we will not, but what we do support is a full transition to democratic civilian governance here, including equal rights under the law for all groups.
“And she was very interested in hearing from the Christian group this morning about their concerns, the kinds of protections they want to ensure are truly guaranteed in this transition and the work that they are trying to do together.”
Egyptian Christians’ concerns about the future under an Islamist government prompted many to support non-Islamist candidates in the first round of the presidential election, and Morsi’s opponent in the runoff. Many are also siding with the military council in its on-going standoff with Morsi and the Brotherhood.
Since becoming president, Morsi has spoken about creating more dialogue between Muslims and Christians, pledging to ensure that one of his deputies would come from Egypt’s Christian minority.
As Clinton flew to Egypt from Southeast Asia on Saturday, a senior administration official briefing reporters accompanying her was asked how worried the U.S. government was about the situation faced by Egypt’s Christians.
“With respects to Christians and other religious minorities – because it’s not just Christians – her view is that, again, over the course of the last year, there have been some worrying signs, but that the new president has gone out and made very positive statements and commitments about working on behalf of all Egyptians,” the official replied.
“And her goal over the course of this visit will not be to lecture on this issue but rather to encourage and to solicit from the president what it is that he intends to do in terms of his actions to follow through on those statements and commitments.”
A Pew Global Attitudes Project survey released last month found that just 19 percent of respondents in Egypt expressed favorable views of the United States – down eight points since 2009.
In a new Pew poll, published last week, 52 percent of Egyptian respondents said they believe the U.S. government opposes democracy in the Arab world.