CAIRO – The head of Egypt’s military took a tough line Sunday on the Muslim Brotherhood, warning that he won’t let the fundamentalist group dominate the country, only hours after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged him to work with Egypt’s elected Islamist leaders.
Clinton’s visit to Egypt underscored the difficulty Washington faces in trying to wield its influence amid the country’s stormy post-Hosni Mubarak power struggles. Protesters chanting against the U.S. – sometimes reaching several hundred – sprung up at several sites Clinton visited this weekend. On Sunday, protesters threw tomatoes, water bottles and shoes at her motorcade as she left a ceremony marking the opening of a new U.S. consulate in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.
Islamist Mohammed Morsi, a longtime Brotherhood figure, was sworn in two weeks ago as Egypt’s first democratically elected president. Led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the military handed over power to him June 30 after ruling Egypt for 16 months. The military, however, dissolved the Brotherhood-led parliament and stripped Morsi of significant authorities in the days before his inauguration, while retaining overwhelming powers for itself, including legislative power and control of the writing of a new constitution.
At the ceremony in Alexandria, Clinton denied the U.S. supports any particular party. She also called for religious tolerance and respect of minorities in the new Egypt – a major concern among the Christian minority, women and secular liberals who fear restrictions if the fundamentalist Brotherhood wields power.
“Democracy is not just about reflecting the will of the majority,” she said. “It is also about protecting the rights of the minority.
“Real democracy means that no group or faction or leader can impose their will, their ideology, their religion, their desires on anyone else.”
Meeting with Morsi on Saturday for the first time, she called for consensus. Without taking a position on the specific disputes, she urged Tantawi to return the armed forces to a “purely national security role,” as she termed it.
After talks with Clinton on Sunday, Tantawi made clear the military will not allow the Brotherhood to hold sway, though he didn’t specify the group by name.
“Egypt will never fall. It belongs to all Egyptians and not to a certain group – the armed forces will not allow it,” he warned.
“The armed forces will not allow anyone, especially those pushed from outside, to distract it from its role as the protector of Egypt,” he said. “The army will never commit treason and will continue to perform its duties until Egypt reaches the shores of safety.”