Kerry tells Morsi that Egypt must change before U.S. will send more aid

 

McClatchy Newspapers

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry vowed Sunday to provide $190 million to help Egypt’s government pay its bills, but said any additional money would require that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi move quickly to resolve the country’s differences with the International Monetary Fund, reform its security services and take steps to provide equal rights for women and religious minorities.

Kerry’s statement, which came at the end of “very candid and constructive” talks with Morsi, was the closest the United States has come to date to criticizing the Egyptian president, who took office as the country’s first democratically elected leader last summer. But Sunday’s announcement also exposed the limits of U.S influence on a country that was once considered a major ally.

“The United States can and wants to do more,” Kerry said. “When Egypt takes the difficult steps to strengthen its economy and build political unity and justice, we will work with our Congress at home on additional support. These steps will also unlock much-needed private-sector investment and broader financial assistance.”

Kerry also announced that the U.S. would give $60 million for a new fund for "direct support of key engines of democratic change.” Those groups would include liberal and secular organizations that have opposed Morsi’s government and what they call the monopolization of power by the Muslim Brotherhood, the secretive Islamist society through which Morsi rose to prominence.

The statement satisfied neither the opposition, which said Kerry should have pressed Morsi harder, nor Morsi’s supporters, who said the United States should respect Morsi’s election and allow him time to govern. There was no comment from the Egyptian government.

Outside analysts said the dissatisfaction on both sides was a sign of how the U.S. approach to change in Egypt has earned it widespread distrust.

Sunday’s announcement “is something you would have expected two years ago not two years in” to the 2011 uprising that led to the fall of former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, said Jon Alterman, the Middle East program director for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“The U.S. ability to influence the economic and political trajectory in Egypt is lower than anyone had anticipated,” Alterman said.

During their meeting, which lasted more than two hours, Kerry and Morsi discussed Syria and Iran, as well as the economic, political and human rights situation in Egypt, Kerry said in his statement. But in statements and briefings for reporters traveling with Kerry, there was no mention of whether U.S. officials had raised the ongoing case against American and Egyptian workers for non-governmental political and aid organizations who are on trial for operating illegally here.

Kerry also met with the ministers of defense and foreign affairs and six of 11 opposition leaders. The rest refused to meet with Kerry in person, highlighting the division within the opposition movement just weeks ahead of critical parliamentary elections that some in the opposition have pledged to boycott.

Egypt’s intractable security problems lingered throughout Kerry’s visit. Police and anti-government demonstrators clashed again in Mansoura, about 80 miles north of Cairo, where violence in the past week has claimed at least one life. Kerry’s motorcade also had to change its route to the airport after security authorities were unable to keep a demonstration of young people from blocking part of the roadway.

Egypt has been in a state of turmoil since last fall, when Morsi declared that his decrees were not reviewable by the country’s Supreme Court. He quickly rushed through passage of a new constitution over the objections of opponents, who said they’d been largely excluded from its drafting and accused Morsi of assuming dictatorial powers. Morsi eventually abandoned his claim to be above court review, but demonstrators have continued to demand he resign and agree to a coalition government.

The opposition anger is fueled by a sense that little good has happened in the country since Morsi took office June 30, promising an ambitious 100-day plan to right the struggling economy and bring a sense of organization to a government that seems incapable of providing basic services such as garbage collection.

The plight of Egypt is underscored by its inability to come to terms with the International Monetary Fund on a $4.8 billion loan that would also unlock $1 billion in aid that President Barack Obama promised May 2011. In his statement, Kerry said Morsi must implement “homegrown” economic reform ideas, a reference to some complaints in Egypt that arranging such a loan would be bowing to international pressure.

Email: nyoussef@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @nancyayoussef

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