10 December 2012

Egypt: U.S. State Department Daily Press Briefing: Egypt


Excerpt from the United States Department of State daily press briefing:

QUESTION: On Egypt, after the latest developments there, do you have any recommendations to President Morsi and the Egyptian people?

MS. NULAND: Well, Michel, I think you know that we have said all the way through here that we are deeply concerned about the ongoing situation in Egypt, that we are obviously seeing what you are seeing, that there are very strong opinions in Egypt about both the substance of the constitution and the process to get there. So - but this is - these are Egyptian decisions to make, how to move forward. What we want to see is a process that can garner the respect and the support of the broadest number of Egyptians. We want to see a constitution that, when it is adopted, respects and protects the rights of all Egyptians and the democratic trajectory of the country, but Egyptians are going to have to work through how they get from here to there.

QUESTION: A number of those in the opposition say that because of the way the constitution was drafted that it was dominated by Islamists, that it is inherently an unsound document, and thus, having the referendum on Saturday should not happen. What has the U.S. said to the Morsi government about the wisdom of proceeding on Saturday?

MS. NULAND: What we are saying is the same thing we've been saying all the way through, that these decisions have to be made by Egyptians, but they have to be made in a manner that can garner the broadest possible support. So we are not in the business of dictating this constitution on this date in this way. These decisions have to be made by dialogue. But clearly, we have still a lot of churn and a lot of ferment about both the process and the substance, and this needs to be worked through.

QUESTION: Does it help that there were concrete barriers erected around the presidential palace and that - perhaps more significant - that Morsi has given the army the order to arrest people who disturb the process of voting on Saturday? Does that not raise alarms in this building?

MS. NULAND: Well, on the question of stability and public order, our message here has also been consistent. We want to see those exercising their right of freedom of expression to do so peacefully, but we also want to see the Egyptian Government and security forces respecting that freedom of peaceful expression and assembly and to exercise restraint. So those are the - that's sort of the frame in which we're watching how things go forward.

QUESTION: Is there any confidence that the Egyptian military will repeat its behavior of 18, 20 months ago when it refused to fire on protestors? Basically, they didn't want to take sides between Mubarak and the protestors.

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we want to see those protesting do so peacefully, and we want to see those who are charged with maintaining security do so in a manner that respects the human rights and respects freedom of expression, and to do so with restraint. So those are the messages that we're giving.

QUESTION: The flip side of Roz's question - the flip side is that the military said that they will ensure that the referendum goes on smoothly. Are you concerned that they might actually impose something akin to martial law?

MS. NULAND: Again, the way this goes forward has to be worked out among Egyptians. But again, we want to see security forces respect the right of peaceful protest, exercise restraint, and of course, we don't want to see mistakes of the Mubarak era repeated.

QUESTION: Can I just make - when you say peaceful protests, presumably you don't want to see people disrupting the polls, correct?

MS. NULAND: We want to see --

QUESTION: You don't want to see people interfering in the polls.

MS. NULAND: We are obviously not calling for that. We're calling for peaceful expression of views.

QUESTION: No, no, I - right, right, but I think the question was - the original question was that Morsi says that he's given the military orders to arrest people who disrupt the polls. Are you concerned about that? And my question is: Are you concerned about people disrupting the polls? And if they do disrupt the polls, shouldn't they be arrested?

MS. NULAND: Again, this whole situation in Egypt is very much evolving, changing on a daily basis. Our concern is that Egyptians make the decisions going forward and that the decisions be consensual, they be rooted in dialogue, and that they be peaceful on all sides, both on the side of those who are dissatisfied with the process and on the side of those charged with public security. So we all know what that looks like. It means exercising restraint on the government's side and it means exercising good judgment and nonviolence on the opposition side.

QUESTION: Right, but I guess the question is --

MS. NULAND: We're not going to get into the business of commenting on every back-and-forth here as they work through how they're going to get to this constitution. We want to see it managed in a way that the end product is a constitution that protects democracy, protects stability, and enforces and brings about a national consensus.

QUESTION: But you would not say that peaceful protest includes disrupting voting?

MS. NULAND: We would not.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Victoria, could you tell us if anyone from this building met with Essam el-Erian, the Deputy President of the Muslim Brotherhood, who is in town?

MS. NULAND: Apparently, he did not have any meetings here in the State Department.

QUESTION: So are you - what is he doing in town? You're not aware of what he's doing or --

MS. NULAND: I think he was here to attend a conference, but ask him, Said. Frankly, I don't know.

QUESTION: Just to be clear about that, his question was whether anyone from this building met with him, not that - whether he had meetings inside the building. So nobody from the building met with him, even if it was outside the building? They didn't go to the conference and chat with him there?

MS. NULAND: What I have is that we didn't see him.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Anything else on this?

(The briefing was concluded at 2:05 p.m.)

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