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Hillary Clinton to meet Egypt’s new president: what is at stake

Hillary Clinton is delivering important US messages to Egypt's newly-elected president from the Muslim Brotherhood: on women, minorities, the peace treaty with Israel, and US support for democracy.

By Staff writer / July 14, 2012

Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr (l.) meets with US Undersecretary of State William Burns (c.) and President Mohammed Morsi at the presidential palace in Cairo Sunday.

Maya Alleruzzo/AP

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Washington

When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sits down in Cairo this weekend with Egypt’s first freely-elected president, she might have preferred he was a representative of the country’s secular democratic political sector.

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Instead she will be face to face with President Mohammed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood.

But with the United States having supported the Egyptian revolution that swept Hosni Mubarak from power and resulted in the election of Mr. Morsi, Secretary Clinton will have no choice but to associate the US with the rise to power of political Islam in the traditional leader of the Arab world.

 In her highly symbolic two-day visit beginning Saturday, Clinton’s task will be to demonstrate America’s support for the new democratic path Egypt has embarked on – even as she delicately underscores the priorities the US will hold to as it builds a new relationship with leaders it didn’t prefer to see in power.

“This was never our favorite result, but on the other hand Secretary Clinton has been at the forefront of our urging Egypt towards democracy, so it would be hard to say now that we aren’t going to recognize the democratic result,” says Edward Walker, a former US ambassador to Egypt and Israel. “I think she understands we have to get [a problematic history with the Muslim Brotherhood] behind us, and see how we can move forward.”

At the same time, Clinton will remind Egypt’s leaders – both Morsi and the military council of generals that has yet to relinquish much of its power to the country’s new civilian leadership – that the world is looking to the governing powers to serve all Egyptians and uphold the country’s international commitments.

By all Egyptians, she will mean women and religious minorities (Coptic Christians) in particular. By international commitments, she will especially mean Egypt’s US-brokered peace treaty with Israel.

Clinton was adamant about personally delivering America’s message, State Department officials say, even though in the eyes of some regional analysts this is not the best moment for highlighting the state of US-Egypt relations. American influence is as low as it’s been in perhaps four decades, some say – since the end of Gamal Nasser’s rule in 1970 – and Egyptians, from the leaders on down, are focused on domestic issues.

But other experts say this attention to the domestic scene – which more than anything is a focus on jump-starting the economy and creating jobs for millions of young Egyptians – provides a potential opening for the US to wield some influence where it otherwise has little.

“Domestic issues are first and foremost for the Egyptians, and supreme among those issues is how to revive the economy – and that’s where we potentially have some influence,” says Patrick Clawson, director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “They do need money for that.”

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