x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Kerry says he may travel to Egypt in coming weeks

US secretary of state says he may visit, as ties between Washington and Cairo deteriorate following US announcement to withhold military and cash aid.

WASHINGTON // John Kerry has said he may visit Egypt in coming weeks in what would be the top US diplomat’s first trip since the removal of Mohammed Morsi as president on July 3.

Ties between Washington and Cairo have deteriorated since the ouster of Mr Morsi, who was elected last year after the toppling of authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak, a longtime US ally, in February 2011.

In one sign of the strains, the United States on October 9 said it would withhold deliveries of tanks, fighter aircraft, helicopters and missiles as well as $260 million (Dh955m) in cash aid pending Egypt’s progress on democracy and human rights.

The military’s removal of Mr Morsi has presented the US president, Barack Obama, with a dilemma.

On the one hand, he wants to maintain ties with a country of strategic importance because of its peace treaty with Israel, its control of the Suez Canal and its status as the Arab world’s most populous nation.

On the other, he is reluctant to be seen as acquiescing in the ouster of a popularly elected leader, albeit an Islamist who emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood movement and whom the US government had come to view as ineffective.

Mr Kerry raised the possibility of an upcoming trip to Egypt at a town hall meeting with State Department employees on Monday.

“I think we may be going to Cairo sometime in the next weeks and one of the meetings that I insisted on having was that we make sure we meet with a cross-section of civil society,” Mr Kerry said in response to a question about the importance of engaging civil society groups.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Mr Kerry’s travel plans had not yet been finalised.

Mr Kerry has visited Egypt once since becoming secretary of state, on March 2 and 3, when he announced plans to give Mr Morsi’s government $190m in budget support and to release $60m for an Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund that would support small and medium companies in the private sector.

US officials had said they had decided to give Mr Morsi that support after he promised to take the painful economic reforms needed to secure a loan from the International Monetary Fund.

They were disappointed, however, by the Morsi government’s failure to move fast on such reforms.

The US government has repeatedly urged the current Egyptian authorities to govern in a more inclusive manner, code for finding a modus vivendi with the Muslim Brotherhood and making progress towards a restoration of democratic rule.

The Brotherhood refuses to work with the military, which it says staged a coup and sabotaged Egypt’s democratic gains after the revolt that toppled Mr Mubarak. The military denies it carried out a coup, saying it responded to the will of the people.

* Reuters