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Will spike of violence in Egypt push US to act more forcefully?

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“We cannot have one set of policies to advance security in the here-and-now and another to promote democracy in a long run that never quite arrives,” she said.

The Egyptian protests were sparked by growing frustration over signs that the ruling military leadership – the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF – plans to hold on to power indefinitely. The SCAF has said it would relinquish power once presidential elections are held, but it has remained vague on timing, suggesting a presidential vote might not take place until 2013.

Egyptians are set to vote in the country’s first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections next week, but the resurgence of protests reflects a waning hope that those elections will mark the first step toward a sure and timely transition to democracy. The military-appointed cabinet offered to resign Monday, bowing to protesters' demands, but it was not clear whether the military would accept that offer or what impact it would have on the election plans.

The US has regular contact with Egypt’s military rulers, with many of the country’s top officers having trained in the US. But the US is also working with many of Egypt’s top pro-democracy forces and is known to have maintained contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood, while perhaps Egypt’s single most potent political force, is not the country’s most extreme Islamist movement. The US is hoping to encourage the more moderate tendencies in an upsurge in religious political forces.

And even as it works to encourage a prompt political transition in Egypt, the administration is also mindful that any perception on the part of the public that the US was employing its heavy hand to steer events could backfire.

But some American experts on Egypt are beginning to criticize the Obama administration for what to them looks like accommodation of the military’s hold on power in the interest of Egypt’s stability and friendliness towards the US. And they are calling on Congress to use its leverage over US foreign policy – its control of the purse strings – to send a clear message to Egypt’s military rulers.

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