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American diplomat: U.S. not backing a side in Egypt

By Sarah El Deeb and Aya Batrawy
Associated Press

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CAIRO: The most senior U.S. official to visit Egypt since its elected president was ousted said Monday that Washington is committed to helping the Arab country succeed in its “second chance” at democracy, adding this can only happen with the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns’ meetings with Egypt’s interim leaders came as thousands of supporters of deposed President Mohammed Morsi held another mass rally to demand his return to office. The protest turned violent as police fired tear gas at pro-Morsi protesters who burned tires, threw rocks and blocked traffic flow on a main roadway running through the heart of the capital.

The remarks by Burns, the No. 2 American diplomat, signaled that Washington, while calling for an inclusive transition, is moving on from Morsi and his Brotherhood group.

Burns insisted that the United States is not taking sides in deeply polarized Egypt, saying it is not Washington’s policy, “as outsiders, to support particular political personalities and particular parties.”

“What we’re going to continue to try to do is to support an open inclusive, tolerant democratic process,” Burns said. “We hope it will be a chance to learn some of the lessons and correct some of the mistakes of the last two years.”

Burns’ comments were being carefully watched in Cairo, where a cross-spectrum of groups have accused Washington of meddling in the country’s affairs.

Morsi’s opponents have long accused the United States of backing the Islamist president during his year in office, particularly after he helped broker a cease-fire between neighboring Israel and the Hamas rulers in the Palestinian Gaza Strip. Tamarod, the main activist group that organized the protests against Morsi, said it refused an invitation to meet with Burns because of the perceived U.S. stance.

On the other side, Morsi’s supporters, including the Brotherhood, now accuse Washington of backing the July 3 coup against Egypt’s first freely elected president. A Brotherhood spokesman said he was not aware of any invitation for the group to meet with the U.S. diplomat during his visit.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki would not comment on whether Tamarod or the Brotherhood had been invited to meet Burns.

Burns held talks Monday with Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour, Prime Minister-designate Hazem el-Beblawi and the head of the military, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, concerning the transition plan put forward by the new leadership. The road map calls for the amending of the Islamist-drafted constitution approved in a referendum under Morsi and then parliamentary and presidential elections early next year.

In carefully worded remarks after the meetings, Burns said Washington is “firmly committed to helping Egypt succeed in this second chance” to realize the promises of creating a democratic state, but added that he did not come to Cairo “with American solutions” or “to lecture anyone.”

“We know that Egyptians must forge their own path to democracy. We know that this will not mirror our own, and we will not try to impose our model on Egypt,” he said.


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