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Egypt's army chief raises stakes with Islamists

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi greets U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sunday in Cairo. Clinton wants the military to work with Islamist leaders on a transition to civilian rule.

Associated Press

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi greets U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sunday in Cairo. Clinton wants the military to work with Islamist leaders on a transition to civilian rule.

CAIRO — The head of Egypt's military took a tough line Sunday on the Muslim Brotherhood, warning that he won't let the fundamentalist group dominate the country, only hours after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged him to work with Egypt's elected Islamist leaders.

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. Protesters chanting against the United States — sometimes reaching several hundred — sprang up at several sites Clinton visited this weekend.

On Sunday, protesters threw tomatoes, water bottles and shoes at her motorcade as she left a ceremony marking the opening of a new U.S. consulate in Alexandria.

President Mohammed Morsi, a longtime 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 June 30 after ruling Egypt for 16 months.

The military, 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.

That has fueled accusations among some Egyptians who back the military or oppose Islamists that Washington is promoting the rise of the Brotherhood to power.

At the ceremony in Alexandria, Clinton denied the United States supports any particular party. She also called for religious tolerance and respect of minorities in the new Egypt.

"Democracy is not just about reflecting the will of the majority," she said. "It is also about protecting the rights of the minority."

Clinton wants the military to work with Morsi and his Islamist allies on a full transition to civilian rule. Meeting with Morsi on Saturday for the first time, she called for consensus. Without taking a position on the specific disputes, she urged Tantawi to return the armed forces to a "purely national security role," as she termed it.

Still, after talks with Clinton on Sunday, Tantawi made clear the military will not allow the Brotherhood to hold sway, though he didn't specify the group by name.

"Egypt will never fall. It belongs to all Egyptians and not to a certain group — the armed forces will not allow it," he said in comments to reporters.

Egypt's army chief raises stakes with Islamists 07/15/12 [Last modified: Monday, July 16, 2012 12:18am]

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