McCain, Kerry Say Egypt Military Wants a Civilian Government

June 26, 2011 - 1:30 PM

Mideast Egypt U.S

U.S Senators, John Kerry, D-Mass., left, and John McCain, R-Ariz., third left, ring the bell to open Cairo stock exchange market Sunday, June 26, 2011. Top senators accompany a delegation of US business leaders to discuss economic opportunities in the North African countries, McCain's office said. Mohamed Abdel Salam, Chairman of Egyptian Stock Exchange, at right. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's military rulers are committed to a quick transition to civilian administration, two leading U.S. senators said Sunday after meeting the general who heads the ruling council.

John McCain, R-Arizona and John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, visiting Egypt at the head of a U.S. business delegation, said it was in America's national security interests to see the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak succeed.

They said Washington was not interested in dictating policy to Egypt. Instead, the focus is on finding ways to help the Arab world's most populous nation boost its economy and address the needs of its people.

The two senators — both former presidential hopefuls — met Field Marshall Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak's former defense minister who now heads Egypt's Supreme Military Council.

McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Forces committee, said Tantawi "again indicated his absolute commitment to a transition to a civilian government at the earliest possible time after the elections have taken place."

The military has pledged to hand over power to a civilian government after parliamentary elections slated for September, to be followed roughly a month later with a presidential vote. But some in the country have advocated delaying the votes, saying the military rulers are pushing too quickly for elections when few have had a chance to form political parties or assess a diverse field of potential presidential candidates.

Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the military rulers are "very anxious to get out of the business of governing, and they want to go back to doing what they were doing."

"They want a civilian government to take over the responsibilities," he said.

Mubarak handed over authority to the military in mid-February after an 18-day mass uprising that cast what was once viewed as the Arab world's most stable nation into a period of chaos. Since then, the country has been struggling to restore some semblance of normalcy and kick-start an economy that, prior to the revolution, had been projected to grow by almost 6 percent for the fiscal year ending June 30.

Those growth figures have since been slashed sharply and officials have been scrambling to address a raft of economic ills such as low wages, unemployment, a shortage of affordable housing — all catalysts for the revolution.

The Cabinet last week passed an $83 billion budget, but revised down spending from the budget's draft to bring the projected deficit down to 8.6 percent of GDP.

The reduction in the deficit forecast, which had initially been projected to hit 11 percent in fiscal 2011-2012, meant Egypt had to rely less on foreign assistance in the coming period, and the country on Saturday withdrew its request for loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The focus, nonetheless, remains on job creation and narrowing the income disparity gap, as well as ensuring that Egyptians, for the first time in decades, feel that their government is operating with transparency and responsiveness to their needs.

"The success and failure of this revolution will be directly related to investment and jobs ... in Egypt," said McCain.

The United States has pledged around $2 billion in aid to Egypt for the coming fiscal year, divided evenly between a debt swap and investments and financing guarantees.

U.S. business delegations have been coming to the country since the uprising, offering more a sense of commitment to continued business in the country than actual new investments.

General Electric chairman and CEO Jeffrey Inmelt said he was "looking for a sense of security and stability" in the country, and that was starting to take shape.

Kerry said while he and McCain were pushing for Congress to approve an enterprise fund that would provide hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to small businesses, it would take billions more in investment for Egypt to realize its goals.

The two lawmakers, who led a business delegation that included executives from several U.S. blue chip companies, said the ability of the government to respond to the needs of the people was vital not only for Egypt's stability, but also to help promote peace in the region and secure U.S. national security interests.

"What happens here in Egypt can make an enormous difference — a huge contribution — to the quest for peace in this region," said Kerry, speaking at a Coca Cola factory in the Cairo suburb of Nasr City. "It's our hope that by providing for the economic future and well being of the people of Egypt that we will, all of us, be able to move more effectively down that road to peace."