US Secretary of State set to urge bickering leaders to end the political chaos that is blocking a large international loan
US Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on Egyptian leaders and opposition politicians to forge a political consensus that will allow the country to emerge from economic crisis. Kerry, who is on his first overseas trip as a member of Barack Obama’s cabinet, was scheduled to meet a number of opposition figures and Egypt’s foreign minister on Saturday. He will see President Mohammed Morsi on Sunday.
US officials said Kerry was particularly concerned that Egypt should make the reforms necessary to qualify for a $4.8bn International Monetary Fund loan package. One official said it was extremely important for the new Egypt for there to be a firm economic foundation, which required reaching agreement with the IMF. To get that Egypt must make reforms, like increasing tax collections and curbing energy subsidies.
Agreement with the IMF would also unlock significant US assistance, including portions of the $1bn that president Obama pledged last April. Getting the IMF deal will also be contingent on an end to the political chaos that has wracked the country since Morsi’s election. Kerry will press for all political players to come to a basic agreement on the country’s direction ahead of parliamentary elections that begin in April, the official said.
Liberal and secular Egyptians have complained that Washington is siding with Morsi’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood. The main opposition group, the National Salvation Front, has said it will boycott the upcoming elections. The US official said Kerry would not tell the front what to do, but would stress that they should participate if they want their ideas and values heard and represented. At the same time, the official said Kerry would impress on Morsi the need for inclusiveness and tolerance.
The visit by the US state secretary was marked by protest on Saturday. In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, a small group of anti-Morsi demonstrators held banners reading: “Kerry – member of the Brotherhood” and “Kerry, you are not welcome here”. The protests in the capital were largely peaceful. However, unrelated demonstrations Saturday in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura saw clashes in which at least one person died. Meanwhile in Port Said, a mob torched a police station, according to security sources.
Egypt has been locked in political crisis for months, amid waves of protests against Morsi that have repeatedly turned into deadly clashes and rioting. The opposition accuses the president and the Brotherhood, from which he hails, of dominating power in Egypt, effectively stepping in to the same role as the ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak and failing to carry out reforms while seeking to instill a more religiously conservative system. Morsi’s administration and the Brotherhood say their opponents are trying to use street unrest to overturn their rule.
Kerry’s visit to Egypt is the sixth leg of a nine-nation dash through Europe and the Middle East. He will travel next to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.