With Kerry on the way, Egypt liberals angry at US
CAIRO (AP) — As John Kerry heads to Egypt on Saturday for his first visit as secretary of state, he faces a barrage of accusations from liberal and secular Egyptians who say Washington is siding with the ruling Muslim Brotherhood in the country's sharp political divisions.
The United States has had its own frustrations with the mainly liberal and secular opposition, which has been plagued by disorganization and divisions. This week, it pressed the main opposition grouping, the National Salvation Front, to reverse its decision to boycott parliamentary elections due to begin in April.
For months, Egypt has been locked in political crisis, amid successive waves of protests against Islamist President Mohammed Morsi that have repeatedly turned into deadly clashes and rioting.
The opposition accuses Morsi and the Brotherhood, from which he hails, of dominating power in Egypt, effectively stepping in to the same role as ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak and failing to carry out reforms while their supporters seek to instill a more religiously conservative system. Morsi's administration and the Brotherhood, in turn, say their opponents are trying to use street unrest to overturn their election victories.
Washington, Egypt's longtime economic and military benefactor, has kept relatively warm ties with Morsi. The Obama administration has praised him for helping resolve last year's battles between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic militant rulers of the Gaza Strip, and for maintaining Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.
The U.S. has said it wants to encourage the building of democracy in Egypt and, amid the political turmoil, has urged all sides to work out their differences. But the opposition says U.S. officials have voiced little criticism of what it calls the Brotherhood's undemocratic ways of imposing power, including pushing through an Islamist-backed constitution despite an opposition boycott at the end of its drafting.
At least two opposition figures said they rejected invitations to meet with Kerry when he holds talks with Egyptian political parties Saturday, ahead of the American diplomat's meetings the next day with Morsi and the head of Egypt's powerful military.
Ahmed el-Borai, a member of the National Salvation Front, was quoted in local newspapers saying that he rejected a U.S. Embassy's invitation "so as to not allow a foreign party to dictate its will on Egyptians."
Similarly, Egypt's oldest opposition party, al-Wafd, said its chairman, el-Sayed el-Badawi, had also declined the embassy's invitation to meet with Kerry.
Also not meeting with Kerry is Mohamed ElBaradei, one of the Salvation Front's top leaders and perhaps the country's most prominent opposition figure — though it is not clear if he was ever invited for a face-to-face.
The anti-Morsi camp's anger with Kerry and the U.S. was on clear display Friday.
On its front page, the independent Al-Tahrir daily ran a large cartoon of Kerry, calling him "the Ikhwani" — or Brotherhood member — and depicting him with an Islamist's beard and the "zibeeba," a mark on the forehead many devout Muslim men have from kneeling in prayer five times a day.
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