U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, left, meets with Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, in Cairo. (Egypt Army spokesman via Facebook/AP)
CAIRO — A senior U.S. diplomat on Monday urged Egypt’s military and new interim leadership to ensure an “inclusive” transition to democracy, dismissing accusations that Washington backs any one side in the deeply polarized country.
Deputy Secretary of State William Burns was making highest level visit to Egypt by an American official since Islamist President Mohammed Morsi was overthrown by the military on July 3 following days of mass protests.
Morsi’s opponents have long accused the United States of backing the Islamist president during his year in office. 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 backers including the Muslim Brotherhood now accuse Washington of backing the coup against Egypt’s first freely elected president.
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 passed under Morsi and then parliamentary and presidential elections early next year.
In a further signal Washington is moving on from Morsi, Burns said that the U.S. is “firmly committed to helping Egypt succeed in this second chance” to realize the promises of creating a democratic state.
“We hope it will be a chance to learn some of the lessons and correct some of the mistakes of the last two years,” he said.
Burns told reporters afterward that the process, particularly the constitutional changes, should be “transparent and inclusive” and that no party should be excluded — a clear call for the Brotherhood to be involved.
“If representatives of some of the largest parties in Egypt are detained or excluded, how are dialogue and participation possible?” Burns said, referring to the Brotherhood.
So far, the Brotherhood has staunchly rejected participating in the new political process, saying it will not validate what it calls the illegal ouster of Morsi. At the same time, authorities have launched a crackdown on its top leadership, putting Morsi and five others in detention and issuing arrest warrants against others.
The interim leadership has said it wants to offer the Brotherhood’s political party posts in the Cabinet it is putting together, but the group has refused.
Burns said he had called on the military to “avoid any politically-motivated arrests.”
The military did not comment on the talks beyond saying in a statement that Burns and el-Sissi discussed “the recent political developments in Egypt ... and ways to reinforce cooperation.”
Burns dismissed accusation that the U.S. has taken sides in 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.”
“I am not naïve. I know that many Egyptians have doubts about the United States, and I know there will be nothing neat or easy about the road ahead,” he said.
During anti-Morsi rallies, protesters denounced Washington, depicting it as the main backer of his rule and the political rise of the Brotherhood. Posters at rallies showed President Obama with a beard like those of Islamist politicians.
Burns, the No. 2 American diplomat, is also expected to meet with civil society groups and business leaders during his trip.
Tamarod said on its Facebook page that it turned down an invitation to meet Burns.
“What is your business with Egypt? Stick with the Brotherhood and show me what good they are (to you),” one of Tamarod’s founders, Mahmoud Badr, said sarcastically in a posting.
From the other side, an official with the Muslim Brotherhood said he was not aware of any invitation for the group to meet with Burns. But the official, Saad Emara, said any talks would have to recognize the Brotherhood’s demand for Morsi’s reinstatement — not about a post-Morsi political process.
“Our bottom line is the constitution legitimacy,” he told The Associated Press. “We won’t talk about post-coup details. “
Morsi’s backers accuse the United States, at the least, of acceding to the military’s coup.
At a rally of supporters in Cairo, the deputy leader of the Brotherhood’s political party, Essam el-Erian told the crowd that Obama pressured Morsi to offer concessions to the protesters or a military coup will be inevitable. In their rally, the protesters accused el-Sissi of being a U.S. agent implementing its agenda in Egypt.
Morsi’s supporters have been holding a sit-in outside an east Cairo mosque since his ouster, demanding that he be reinstated. They are planning on Monday large street protests, dubbed “the Monday of steadfastness.”