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New US ambassador says Egypt's democratic process is 'on track'

US Ambassador Anne Patterson, making her first major public appearance, downplayed US-Egypt tensions and domestic criticism of Egypt's interim military rulers.

By Correspondent / September 15, 2011

This Aug. 9 photo shows a pedestrian as he walks past security forces guarding Tahrir Square in Cairo.

Coralie Carlson/AP



The new American ambassador made her first major public appearance today, saying that Egypt is on the road to democracy despite the recent expansion of the emergency law, which severely curtails civil rights.

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"We hope the law will be phased out – that is our position – but we see a democratic process on track under the leadership of the military council," said Ambassador Anne Patterson, speaking at an event sponsored by the American Chamber of Commerce in Cairo.

While her main focus at today's event was American-Egyptian economic cooperation and strengthening Egypt's economy, during the question and answer session she fielded queries on the emergency law, the tense Egypt-Israeli relations, public perception of the US in Egypt, and tension between the US and Egypt on US funding for non-governmental organizations – a matter of particular controversy.

“I have found in my short stay here ... that there is excessive focus on our past and present assistance programs," said Ambassador Patterson. "The future of Egypt lies with the private sector, with its ability to innovate, and with its commercial links to the broader world, including the US, and not with international assistance."

Patterson, a career diplomat who has previously served as ambassador to Pakistan, Colombia, and Ecuador, has stepped into her new role at a delicate time for the Arab world's most populous country and its relationship with the US. Washington's billions of dollars in aid to former President Hosni Mubarak's autocratic regime angered average Egyptians, while its modest support for pro-democracy groups irked the country's military rulers.

When Patterson arrived in Egypt six weeks ago, the cover of a state-run magazine depicted her using a wad of American dollars to light a bomb in iconic Tahrir square, declaring, “The ambassador from hell lights a fire in Tahrir Square.”

She said today that the Egyptian public's negative public perception of the US was a "source of frustration" for the embassy. But she downplayed US-Egypt tensions, and refrained from criticizing the increasingly repressive measures wielded by the military council ruling Egypt until new elections are held.

Their rule “is going to be temporary," she said. "They want to get out of the business of governing and return to their duties.”


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