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Revolutionary Youth Gives Clinton the Cold Shoulder
CAIRO - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week paid a highly-publicised visit to Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicentre of Egypt's recent popular uprising. But young leaders of the revolution declined an invitation to meet with her, citing Washington's tepid support for anti-government protesters over the course of the 18-day rebellion.
"We refused to meet Clinton due to the U.S. administration's vacillating position and contradictory statements as the revolution unfolded," Islam Lutfi, spokesman for Egypt's Coalition of Revolutionary Youth, told IPS. "The decision also expressed our rejection of 50 years of faulty U.S. policies in the region."
Shortly after her arrival to Egypt on March 15, Clinton met with newly-appointed Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil el-Arabi. The two reportedly exchanged views on the precarious political situation in the Middle East, particularly in Libya -- currently the target of U.S.-Europe-led air-strikes -- and the occupied Palestinian territories.
Early the next day, Clinton was given a ten-minute walking tour of Tahrir Square amid tight security. "To see where this revolution happened -- and all that it has meant to the world -- is extraordinary for me," she was quoted as saying.
Shortly afterward, Clinton met with Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), with whom she reportedly discussed bilateral ties and the regional situation. Clinton is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Egypt since Mubarak handed over executive authority to the SCAF on February 11 after 30 years in power.
At her meeting with Sharaf, Clinton stressed Washington's stated support for democratic transformation in the region. She also confirmed that U.S. financial assistance to Egypt, which she described as a "strategic partner," would be maintained.
"I am so looking forward to help in any way that we can," she was quoted as saying. "There is so much to be done and the United States is ready to help in every way possible to translate what happened in Tahrir Square to a new reality for Egypt."
Clinton went on to announce that Washington had earmarked 90 million U.S. dollar for immediate economic assistance to Egypt, while the U.S. Congress had been asked to establish a 60-million-dollar Egyptian-U.S. fund to support the Egyptian private sector. This comes in addition to the roughly 2 billion dollar in U.S. economic and military assistance Egypt receives every year.
Sharaf, for his part, told Clinton that Egypt "seeks to achieve the transition to real democracy, which guarantees the participation of all segments of society in political life," according to the state-run MENA news agency.
Later the same day, Clinton held a 90-minute closed-door meeting with Egyptian civil-society representatives and a handful of political party leaders.
"We spoke with her about the consequences of the revolution and the current political situation in Egypt," Hafez Abu Saeda, head of the Cairo-based Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights and meeting participant, told IPS. "But several of us also sharply criticised Washington's wavering position throughout the course of the revolution."
On January 25, as mounting street protests in Egypt morphed into a nationwide revolt, Clinton had notoriously stated that "the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people."
According to Abu Saeda, Egyptian representatives that met with Clinton also slammed the U.S. for its practice of coupling its strategic interests in the region to dictatorial Arab regimes.
"We told her that all these regimes were on the verge of imminent collapse and that Washington would be better served by linking its interests with the will of the people," he said. "Several meeting participants also urged Clinton to throw U.S. support behind the ongoing popular uprisings in Libya, Bahrain and Yemen against the dictatorial regimes in those countries."
Clinton was even less warmly received by Egypt's influential Coalition of Revolutionary Youth. Virtually all members of the coalition, which comprises several youth-oriented revolutionary groups that were heavily involved in the uprising, turned down formal invitations to meet with the U.S. secretary of state.
"The U.S. State Department invited several of us to meet with Clinton," said the coalition's Lutfi. "But we refused due to the U.S. administration's wavering stance during the revolution, which remained ambiguous right up until Mubarak's departure."
In a statement on its Facebook page issued on March 14, the coalition cited additional reasons for its decision not to meet with Clinton. "The U.S. administration only looks after its own interests, even if these interests conflict with those of the Egyptian people; the U.S. administration supports oppressive regimes throughout the region," the statement read.
As for the financial largesse promised by Clinton to Egypt, Lutfi was no less dismissive.
"The U.S. has given Egypt some 2 billion dollar annually for the last 30 years as a bribe to allow it to intervene in Egypt's domestic affairs and ensure that Egypt honours the Camp David peace agreement with Israel," he said. "From now on, all foreign funding should only be accepted on the condition that in doesn't come with political strings attached or promote values alien to Egyptian culture."
Echoing a common opinion among Egyptian revolutionary circles of all political stripes, Lutfi added: "We really don’t want anything from America -- neither intervention in our sovereign affairs nor advice on 'good governance' and democracy."
During her two-day stay in Egypt, Clinton did not meet with -- nor request to meet with -- representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition force.