US Secretary of State John Kerry (Photo: Reuters)
US Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to try to distance himself Friday from comments he made that were seen as endorsing the Egyptian military's overthrow of a civilian ruler.
Washington has struggled to articulate a coherent position on the situation in Egypt, where the army stepped in to depose president Mohammed Morsi following large-scale street protests.
On Thursday, during a visit to Pakistan, Kerry further muddied the waters by telling a television interviewer that Egyptian forces had acted to "restore democracy" in ousting the elected leader.
This infuriated Morsi's supporters in Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, and undermined previous US attempts to appear neutral in the dispute while urging both signs not to resort to violence.
On Friday -- against a backdrop of new anti-American rallies in Cairo -- his tone was more measured but his message far from clear. Meeting reporters in London, he said: "Egypt needs to get back to a new normal."
After talks with Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Kerry said Egypt "needs to begin to restore stability to be able to attract business and good people to work. And that's a high priority."
Kerry added: "And we will work very, very hard, together and with others, in order to bring parties together to find a peaceful resolution that grows the democracy and respects the rights of everybody."
His Emirati counterpart said the international community did not want to see "anybody stopping Egypt from (going) the way it should go, and that's only going to happen by all parties being in an inclusive dialogue."
Police fired tear gas in a Cairo suburb on Friday to disperse protesters demanding Morsi's reinstatement, a security official and an AFP reporter said.
The protesters responded by saying they would march on the Egyptian army headquarters.
The United Arab Emirates has been a strong supporter of Egypt's new military-installed regime. Along with ally Saudi Arabia, it has earmarked $8 billion in aid to the new regime.
The United States also provides aid to the Egyptian military, which with $1.3 billion in the year is second only to the Israeli military in Washington's affections.
In theory, however, US law forbids the administration from subsidizing any military that carries out a coup against a civilian power.
In order to get round this, and to maintain leverage over an army that is now the key player in the Egyptian drama, the White House and State Department have tied themselves in knots to avoid calling the takeover a coup.
But with Egyptian forces now implicated in two mass shootings of Morsi supporters and putsch leader General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi assuming an increasingly prominent role as a national figurehead, this stance is starting to look a little shaky.
The United States was a strong supporter of former Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak for three decades until he was overthrown by a street revolt -- with belated military backing -- two years ago.
Pressure groups like Human Rights First denounced Kerry's statement, seeing in it a continuation of America's historic role in shoring up authoritarian Middle East regimes.
"It is shocking that, in the aftermath of serious violence in Egypt in which scores of supporters of elected, deposed president Mohamed Morsi were killed after having been fired on by Egyptian security forces, Secretary Kerry would use the term 'restoring democracy' to characterize events in Egypt," said Human Rights First's Neil Hicks.