US to release €190m in aid to Egypt


The United States will release $190 million in budget aid to Egypt following an assurance from President Mohamed Morsi that he plans to “complete the IMF process”, said US secretary of state John Kerry yesterday.

Cairo says it wants to reopen talks with the IMF on a $4.8 billion loan which was agreed in principle last November but suspended at Cairo’s request following street unrest. Foreign reserves have plunged from $35 billion to $14 billion, a sum covering only three months’ food and fuel needs.

Mr Kerry also appealed to Mr Morsi to foster national unity and reform in his bitterly polarised country.

Since his election, Mr Morsi, rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood, has been accused by his opponents of monopolising power, promoting the Brotherhood’s interests and agenda, and refusing to reform institutions that were corrupted during the 30-year reign of ousted president Hosni Mubarak. He faces constant protests and strikes as well as demands to resign.

Only six of 11 invited opposition figures met Mr Kerry on Saturday and three participants refused to lift a boycott of staged parliamentary elections due to begin next month. Mr Kerry was frustrated by the cool reception, he expressed frustration with the tactics of a weak and divided opposition and urged “the broadest possible political and economic participation” to ensure “human rights and strong checks and balances”.

Contact with leaders

The main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, chief sponsor of the boycott, did not attend although two of its leaders had contacts with Mr Kerry. Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei spoke to him by phone and former foreign minister Amr Moussa met him separately.

The opposition argues that the new constitution and electoral law drafted by the Brotherhood will give the movement an advantage in the elections.

Mr Kerry discussed with defence minister Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and intelligence chief Mohamed Raafat Abdel-Wahid the role Egypt, the most populous Arab country, could assume, enabling Cairo to regain its leadership of the Arab world.

In particular, Washington seeks assurances that Egypt will continue to adhere to its 1979 peace treaty with Israel, seen by the US as the key to Arab-Israeli coexistence.

Following the 2011 fall of the Mubarak regime, the Bro- therhood called for revision of the treaty and an end to Israel’s siege and blockade of Gaza. However, since taking power, the Brotherhood has adhered strictly to the treaty and maintained Gaza’s isolation, extremely unpopular policies.

Mr Kerry pressed Egypt to halt the flow of weapons to Gaza, crack down on fundamentalist fighters in the Sinai peninsula, back the Syrian opposition, and keep Tehran at arm’s length. His visit, the first to an Arab country as secretary of state, was ill starred as he arrived along with a Biblical plague of locusts set to devastate winter crops.

Separately, an Egyptian appeals court has set April 13th as the date for Mr Mubarak’s retrial over the deaths of protesters in 2011.

– (Additional reporting by Reuters)