U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday urged Egypt’s Islamist president and its military to settle their differences for the good of Egypt’s people, or risk seeing their nation’s democratic transition derailed.
Egypt’s newly elected President Mohammed Mursi is locked in conflict with the powerful military over whether the country’s legislature should reconvene after a court ruling last month dissolved it. It’s the latest crisis in nearly 17 months of political drama since last year’s overthrow of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.
Speaking in Vietnam, Clinton refused to take sides in the simmering dispute. She cited Egypt’s progress, as evidenced by competitive elections and the first popularly elected president in the country’s “very long history.” But she stressed that much more needed to be done.
“Democracy not just about elections,” she told reporters. “It is about creating vibrant, inclusive political dialogue; listening to civil society; having good relations between civilian officials and military officials, where each is working to serve the interests of the citizens.”
Delivering a cautionary message, Clinton said: “We strongly urge dialogue and a concerted effort on the part of all to try to deal with the problems that are understandable, but have to be resolved in order to avoid the kind of difficulties that could derail the transition that is going on.”
The military handed power to the new president on June 30 after guiding the transition for 16 months. But the generals did so only after the country’s top court dissolved the parliament dominated by Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood party and pushed through an interim constitution granting themselves sweeping powers.
The Egyptian parliament convened Tuesday for about five minutes. Speaker Saad al-Katatni told lawmakers that the legislature met to find ways to implement the ruling rather than debate it out of respect for the principle of “the supremacy of the law and separation of authorities.”
The lawmakers then approved al-Katatni’s proposal that the parliament seek legal advice from a high appeals court on how to implement the supreme court's ruling. He then adjourned the session.
Clinton, whose two-week foreign tour will take her to Egypt this weekend, said she looked forward to meetings with Mursi and other Egyptian officials to hear what they have to say. She said the U.S. remains committed to working with Egypt’s government and civil society to help the country complete its democratic transition and deal with its struggling economy and deteriorating security situation.
After three decades of close cooperation with Egypt’s authoritarian leader Mubarak, the Obama administration has sought to redefine U.S. relations with Egypt. It has championed democratic change while still trying to safeguard American interests, from cooperating with Cairo on counterterrorism to ensuring Israel’s security.
Clinton called on all sides in Egypt to come together.
“Democracy really is about empowering citizens to determine the direction of their own country,” she said. “We urge that there be intensive dialogue among all of the stakeholders in order to ensure there is a clear path for them to be following and that the Egyptian people get what they protested for and what they voted for, which is a fully elected government making the decisions.’