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No serious crisis in Egypt-US relations, diplomats say

Diplomats say decline in Cairo-Washington ties has been exaggerated, US coming to terms with post-Morsi reality

Dina Ezzat , Friday 26 Jul 2013
Mansour and Burns
Egypt's interim President Adli Mansour (R) meets with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns at El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo, July 15, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

Egyptian and American diplomats say there is a mutual understanding between the two countries and their strategic ties are not compromised despite a temporary hiccup in over four decades of exceptionally close cooperation.

Diplomatic sources on both sides say a recent “candid and relatively long talk” between Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmi and his US counterpart John Kerry emphasised that Cairo and Washington have to continue working together to serve the purpose of regional stability and the promotion of “Middle East peace.”

Fahmi, according to Ahram Online's sources, assured Kerry that Egypt is committed to the transitional roadmap and that within nine months there will be presidential elections that could be subject to international monitoring.

Kerry, according to the same sources, reassured Fahmi of Washington’s desire to see Egypt resuming a democratic path and said any delay to US economic or military aid would only be temporary.

The Fahmi-Kerry talks came against the backdrop of a much publicised decision by the US to delay the handover of four F16 jets. The move was designed to put pressure on the Egyptian military to move promptly towards restoring democracy following its ouster of elected president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July amid mass nationwide protests.

The significance of the delay was exaggerated, suggests former Egyptian foreign minister Mohamed El-Orabi. The decision by the US was taken two weeks ago “but caught much attention during the past couple of days with the renewed calls for demonstrations to support firm action by the military and police against possible terror attacks, El-Orabi says.

The call for demonstrations to support the role of the army and police was made on Wednesday by army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi.

The US is “clearly watching carefully to follow the path of democratic transition in Egypt,” El-Orabi adds.

Having taken part in several meetings with visiting US officials and senators during the last weeks of Morsi's presidency, El-Orabi says, “the US would clearly have favoured the continued rule of Morsi; they told us this repeatedly.”

He adds that while the opposition was calling for early presidential elections ahead of the 30 June demonstrations, visiting US officials and senators wanted “Morsi to finish his four-year term in office and then pursue change through presidential elections.”

Egyptian diplomats say that when Morsi was ousted on 3 July the US tried “to apply pressure for him to be kept on as a symbolic president but eventually gave up.”

The same diplomats say Washington has been calling for the release of Morsi, held at a secret location by the military since his ouster, and other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. In the words of one diplomat, the US went as far as suggesting that “Morsi and the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood [many of whom are currently under arrest on charges of inciting violence] should be allowed a safe exit with their families and a good part of their assets.”

A US diplomat accepts that such a call was made but says the main US aim is for the Brotherhood to be reintegrated into the political life of Egypt and that there must be no persecution of the group.

“Ultimately, these matters will be addressed through legal channels and close US-Egypt relations will have to resume because this is in the interest of both sides,” El-Orabi says.

Egyptian and US diplomats say things will start getting better once Egypt starts preparations for parliamentary elections, or maybe even before that with the drafting of a more consensual constitution than the one drafted during the rule of Morsi.

Egyptian diplomats add that once the current US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson ends her term – three months is the period most sources think is left for Patterson in Cairo – there will be a new page in bilateral relations.

Sobhi Essila, a commentator and analyst at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, argues that Patterson’s “statements and attitude” have not been helpful for Egypt-US relations. Patterson, he adds, bargained too much on the Brotherhood as she kept insisting they were ‘the only game in town’.

Patterson is the most controversial US ambassador in Cairo since the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in 1979, Essila says.

“It is unprecedented to see demonstrations targeting the US ambassador in name and repeatedly as we have seen with Patterson,” he adds.

In protests before 30 June protesters carried posters saying ‘Patterson Go Home’.

This was not even the case, Essila says, when in 2009 the US delayed the transfer of a portion of military aid to protest the Mubarak regime's failure to observe democratic principles.

“At the time it was a political fight between Cairo and Washington over calls for democracy, but during the last year we have seen a US ambassador trying to force the continued rule of a president whose legitimacy was being increasingly being withdrawn by the public,” he argues.

Informed official sources tell Ahram Online that the advice offered by Patterson to Brotherhood leaders on the eve of the 30 June demonstrations was not helpful in prompting a good response to the public demand for early presidential elections. “Rather the opposite, she gave them the impression that the US would continue to back them,” says one.

Muslim Brotherhood member Hamdi Hassan denies categorically that the US was supporting the Brotherhood due to its role in urging Hamas to do more to suit Israel. The US, he says, acknowledges the fact that Morsi was a legitimately elected president and that he was removed in a military coup.

According to El-Orabi, the US might have been taken aback by the ease of Morsi's fall but it is now coming to terms with the new political reality.

“On 26 July, the US will see the Egyptian masses taking to the streets to reaffirm, once and for all, their determination to move beyond the Morsi phase. It will be a message that the US will not be able to overlook,” he states.


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