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‘Egypt’s tipping point’: U.S. voices concerns over diplomatic heat

Published: Updated:

The United States on Tuesday said Egypt’s moment of truth is about to arrive following recent arrests and a surge in political violence, prompting “real concerns” from Secretary of State John Kerry.

“We have put a series of real choices to the government of Egypt, but in the end they have to make those choices,” Kerry told reporters, adding it was “a key moment for Egypt. It’s really a tipping point for Egypt.”

Kerry, who visited Cairo in March unlocking some $250 million in U.S. aid to help revive the economy, admitted President Barack Obama and the administration “share real concerns about the direction that Egypt appears to be moving in.”

“It is our hope that there is still time to be able to turn a corner,” he said after talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se.

“But the recent arrests, the violence in the streets, the lack of inclusivity with respect to the opposition in public ways that make a difference to the people of Egypt, are all of concern today.”

There has been increasing concern in the West about a number of legal complaints against journalists, which have cast doubt on President Mohamed Mursi’s commitment to freedom of expression.

Greater press freedom was also one of the key demands of the popular uprising that toppled long-time leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Egypt’s prosecution on Tuesday was probing complaints of “threatening public security” against a popular satirist, Bassem Youssef, who is already on bail facing charges of insulting the president and offending Islam.

Human rights lawyers say there have been four times as many lawsuits for insulting the president under Mursi than during the entire 30 years of Mubarak’s rule.

Kerry said the United States had been working very hard with the Egyptian government in past weeks to get it to reach out to the opposition and to seal a deal with the IMF on a long-mooted loan which could reach $4.8 billion.

The International Monetary Fund is expected to hold further talks with Cairo this week, and has said it could provide an emergency short-term loan to Egypt if needed, as talks on the longer-term financing program drag on.

U.S. interference?

Egyptian Islamists on Tuesday however accused the U.S. of blatant interference in Egypt’s affairs after Washington said Cairo was muzzling freedom of speech.

On Monday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland criticized the questioning of the most popular Egyptian television satirist.

The Freedom and Justice Party, political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, condemned the comments from Nuland and said thegovernment was committed to freedom of expression. “Nuland’s statements are ... blatantly interfering in Egypt’s internal affairs,” a party statement said.

Meanwhile, Egyptian Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim told al-Hayat television on Monday the political division that has gripped Egypt since Mursi came to power has affected state institutions.

“Political division has become a characteristic of the Egyptian people. Even [state] organs have divisions within them,” said Ibrahim, adding that his ministry is working under difficult circumstances but does not differentiate between political parties.
His statement follows the latest dispute between the judiciary and the presidency.

An Egyptian court last week overturned a decision by Mursi to sack Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud and ordered his reinstatement.

However, the prosecutor general’s office said Talaat Abdallah, who replaced Mahmud in November, will remain in his post in accordance with the constitution.