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Clinton's Egypt calls fall flat


Hillary Rodham Clinton poses with Christian leaders after a meeting at the US Embassy in Cairo (AP)

Hillary Rodham Clinton poses with Christian leaders after a meeting at the US Embassy in Cairo (AP)

Hillary Rodham Clinton poses with Christian leaders after a meeting at the US Embassy in Cairo (AP)

The head of Egypt's army has taken a tough line on the Muslim Brotherhood, warning that he would not let the fundamentalist group dominate the country, only hours after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged him to work with Egypt's elected Islamist leaders.

Ms Clinton's visit to Egypt underscored the difficulty Washington faces in trying to wield its influence amid the country's stormy post-Hosni Mubarak power struggles.

Islamist Mohammed Morsi, a long-standing Brotherhood figure, was sworn in two weeks ago as Egypt's first democratically-elected president. Led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the military handed over power to him on June 30 after ruling Egypt for 16 months.

The army, however, dissolved the Brotherhood-led parliament and stripped Morsi of significant authorities in the days before his inauguration, while retaining overwhelming powers for itself, including legislative power and control of the writing of a new constitution.

The United States is in a difficult spot when it comes to dealing with post-Mubarak Egypt - eager to be seen as a champion of democracy and human rights after three decades of close ties with the ousted leader despite his abysmal record in advancing either.

This has involved some uncomfortable changes, including occasional criticism of America's long-time faithful partners in Egypt's army as it grabs more power and words of support for Islamist parties far more sceptical of US intentions in Egypt and the rest of the Middle East. That has fuelled accusations among some Egyptians who back the army or oppose Islamists that Washington is promoting the rise of the Brotherhood to power.

Protesters chanting against the US - sometimes reaching several hundred - have sprung up at several sites where Clinton visited this weekend. Protesters threw tomatoes, water bottles and shoes at her motorcade as she left a ceremony marking the opening of a new US consulate in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.

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At the ceremony, Ms Clinton denied the US supports any particular party. She also called for religious tolerance and respect of minorities in the new Egypt - a major concern among the Christian minority, women and secular liberals who fear restrictions if the fundamentalist Brotherhood wields power.

Ms Clinton does want the military to work with Morsi and his Islamist allies on a full transition to civilian rule.

But with the US having already approved another massive delivery of military aid, it is unclear what leverage Washington has as it seeks to stabilise Egypt and build a new relationship with America's once ironclad Arab ally.

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