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Clinton presses Egypt over rights

US state secretary says fate of women and Christians is a legitimate concern.

WASHINGTON // The US state secretary, Hillary Clinton, said on Monday that questions remained as to whether Egypt's Islamist political parties would equally represent non-Muslims.

She said the future relationship of the administration of the president, Barack Obama, with Egypt's president, Mohammed Morsi, and the Muslim Brotherhood would depend on how they respected the rights of Coptic Christians, women and other minorities.

Speaking to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Mrs Clinton recounted her discussions she with Mr Morsi and Egyptian Christians when she visited Cairo earlier this month. She said Egypt was still grappling with the challenge of religious liberty as it sought to establish a democracy after decades of dictatorship.

"I heard from Christians who want to know that they will be accorded the same rights and respect as all Egyptians in a new government led by an Islamist party," Mrs Clinton said. "They wonder, will a government looking explicitly to greater reliance on Islamic principles stand up for non-Muslims and Muslims equally? Since this is the first time that Egypt has been in this situation, it's a fair question."

Mrs Clinton, addressing the Washington think tank after the country's state department released its annual assessment of religious freedom around the world, commended Egypt's new president for saying "clearly and repeatedly, in public and private, that he intends to be the president of all Egyptians".

She noted Mr Morsi's pledge to include women and Christians in top leadership positions, and said the US would now monitor how senior government roles are distributed in Egypt's new government.

"We are going to judge by actions, not words, and the actions are just at the very beginning stages," Mrs Clinton said.

Monday's religious freedom report criticised the US allies Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, while also taking aim at Iran, China and North Korea.

The US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, meanwhile, arrived in Cairo for his first meeting with Mr Morsi yesterday.

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