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Kerry pledges $250M in aid to Egypt

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By McClatchy Newspapers
Sunday, March 3, 2013, 8:36 p.m.

CAIRO — Secretary of State John Kerry promised on Sunday to give Egypt $190 million to help the government pay its bills but said more money would require that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy move quickly to resolve the country's differences with the International Monetary Fund, reform its security services and take steps to provide equal rights for women and religious minorities.

Kerry announced that the United States would give $60 million for “direct support of key engines of democratic change.” Those groups would include liberal and secular organizations that have opposed Morsy's government and what they call the monopolization of power by the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist society through which Morsy rose to prominence.

Kerry's statement, made at the end of “very candid and constructive” talks with Morsy, was the closest the United States has come to criticizing the Egyptian president, who took office last summer as the country's first democratically elected leader. Sunday's announcement also exposed the limits of U.S. influence on a country that was once considered a major ally.

“The United States can and wants to do more,” Kerry said. “When Egypt takes the difficult steps to strengthen its economy and build political unity and justice, we will work with our Congress at home on additional support. These steps will also unlock much-needed private-sector investment and broader financial assistance.”

The statement satisfied neither the opposition, which said Kerry should have pressed Morsy harder, nor Morsy's supporters, who said the United States should respect his election and allow him time to govern. There was no comment from the Egyptian government.

Outside analysts said the dissatisfaction on both sides was a sign of how the United States' approach to change in Egypt has earned it widespread distrust.

Sunday's announcement “is something you would have expected two years ago, not two years in” to the 2011 uprising that led to the fall of former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, said Jon Alterman, the Middle East program director for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“The U.S. ability to influence the economic and political trajectory in Egypt is lower than anyone had anticipated,” Alterman said.

During their meeting, which lasted more than two hours, Kerry and Morsy discussed Syria and Iran, as well as the economic, political and human rights situation in Egypt, Kerry said in his statement. But there was no mention of whether U.S. officials had raised the ongoing case against American and Egyptian workers for nongovernmental political and aid organizations who are on trial for operating illegally here.

Kerry also met with the ministers of defense and foreign affairs and six of 11 opposition leaders. The rest refused to meet with Kerry, highlighting the division within the opposition movement just weeks ahead of parliamentary elections that some in the opposition have pledged to boycott.

Egypt's security problems lingered throughout Kerry's visit. Police and anti-government demonstrators clashed again in Mansoura, about 80 miles north of Cairo, where violence in the past week has claimed at least one life.

Kerry's motorcade had to change its route to the airport when security authorities were unable to keep a demonstration of young people from blocking part of the roadway.

Egypt has been in turmoil since last fall, when Morsy declared that his decrees were not reviewable by the country's Supreme Court. He quickly rushed through a constitution over the objections of opponents, who said they were largely excluded from its drafting and accused Morsy of assuming dictatorial powers. Morsy eventually abandoned his claim to be above court review, but demonstrators have continued to demand that he resign and agree to a coalition government.

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