Washington hits back at Egypt criticism over Missouri unrest

Ayat Al-Tawy , Wednesday 20 Aug 2014

US snaps back at Egypt after Cairo criticised Washington's handling of racially-charged unrest in Ferguson, saying it confronts problems 'honestly and openly'

US State Department Deputy Spokesperson speaking to a press briefing at the State Department, August 19, 2014, Washington, DC (Photo: US State Department video)

A US official on Tuesday hit back at Egypt after Cairo took a swipe at US authorities' handling of racially-motivated demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri, saying Washington would call on countries to deal with their problems as openly and honestly as it does.

"We here in the United States will put our record for confronting our problems transparently and honestly and openly up against any other countries in the world," deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

"We would call on other countries to do the same. And unfortunately, we haven’t always seen that, so we’ll keep calling on them to do so."

Ties between Washington and Cairo have soured following the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

Egypt's foreign ministry said Tuesday it was "closely following the escalation of protests" in Ferguson, sparked by the shooting of an 18-year-old unarmed black teenager by a white policeman on 9 August.

Foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Atty cited a statement by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon calling for restraint. He said Ban's remarks "represented the position of the international community towards these events, especially the call for restraint and the right to peaceful assembly and expression."

The statement echoed Washington's critique of Egypt's crackdown on Islamist protesters in July 2013, with the White House urging Cairo at the time to "exercise maximum restraint and caution."

"People are free to say whatever they want. That’s something we believe in very deeply here, is freedom of expression," Harf told a regular press briefing.

The spokeswoman further stressed she "reject[s] any sort of comparison" between criticism voiced by Cairo and that made by Washington. "Let's separate them out," she said.

Iran, China and Russia have also hit out at the unrest, with Tehran accusing Washington of "racist behaviour and oppression" and Beijing urging it to "concentrate on solving its own problems," according to local media.

In response to a reporter wondering if criticism by these countries was appropriate, Harf emphasised that the situation in Ferguson is not a point of comparison.

"I would certainly strongly disagree with the notion that’s what’s happening here is comparable in any [way] to situations in some of those countries you’ve named."

"When we have problems and issues in this country, we deal with them openly and honestly. We think that’s important, and I would encourage the countries you named particularly to do the same thing. They haven’t always done that, and we’ve been very clear when we believe they should."

Days of violent clashes between protesters and police prompted the US authorities to impose a curfew in the Missouri town and dozens have been arrested since the unrest broke out.

With regard to Egypt, "we are very clear and we have very serious concerns about the human rights situation, about what happened over the last year… to peaceful protesters, to journalists being thrown in jail for over a year now, to very huge numbers of death sentences being handed down, as we’ve seen recently as well," Harf added.

At least 1,400, mostly Islamists, have been killed in Egypt since Morsi's overthrow and thousands of others have been jailed, with hundreds sentenced to death in hurried mass trials.

Several journalists have been handed long jail terms over allegations including aiding Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood group, designated by authorities a terrorist organisation. This has heightened fears for the future of media freedom and freedom of expression in Egypt, where street protests have led to the toppling of two presidents in three years.

The crackdown has repeatedly drawn denunciations from Western powers.

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