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On visit, Clinton balances between Egypt's new players (+video)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with the head of Egypt's military and with the country's new president, both of whom are locked in a power struggle. 

Hillary Clinton's motorcade pelted with tomatoes in Egypt
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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi today, after meeting Egypt’s newly elected president, Mohamed Morsi, yesterday on her first visit since the uprising that ousted longtime US ally Hosni Mubarak.

Ms. Clinton’s trip illustrates the balancing act the United States is playing in Egypt, where Mr. Morsi, a member of an Islamist group long held in suspicion by US policymakers, and the military, the recipient of billions of dollars in aid from Washington, are locked in a power struggle.

In brief remarks after her hour-long meeting with Morsi yesterday, Clinton said the US “supports the full transition to civilian rule with all that entails,” and that she is “working to support the military’s return to a purely national security role.” But she also praised the military for holding free and fair elections, and for not firing on Egyptians during the uprising against Mr. Mubarak, comparing the Egyptian uprising with the situation in Syria, where “the military [is] murdering their own people.”

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the military council that ruled Egypt after Mubarak’s fall, made a last-minute power grab before handing over executive authority to Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, at the end of last month. After a court seen as aligned with the generals ruled that Egypt’s newly elected parliament should be dissolved, the generals issued amendments to Egypt’s interim constitution that limited the president’s powers and extended its own, breaking its promises of completing a full transition to civilian rule by this month.

In his first week in office, Morsi shot back, ordering the parliament to reconvene despite the court’s ruling. He backed off after the court affirmed its first ruling, and said he would respect the law. This week, a court is due to rule on a case that could dissolve the constitutional assembly elected by the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament, which would give the generals a chance to unilaterally appoint a new body to write Egypt’s new constitution.

Despite the $1.3 billion in US aid to the military every year, the US has found over the last year that it had little leverage over the generals. While Clinton talked about ending the political role of the military yesterday, she indicated the US would not interject in the power struggle.

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