Tue March 15, 2011

Seize The Moment, Clinton Tells Egyptians

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Egyptians on Tuesday that "this moment of history belongs to you," and they should use it to build on the success of the revolution that ousted the country's longtime autocratic leaders and to embrace democratic reforms.

"Today, Egypt is rising. Egypt, the mother of the world, is now giving birth to democracy," Clinton said.

Making her first visit to what she called the "new Egypt," Clinton said the country's path to elections and greater freedom will be hard work but that America will help.

Clinton is the most senior U.S. official to visit Egypt since the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. She said the transition that is happening now is as important as the peaceful protests that toppled the entrenched leadership.

Americans were inspired by the revolution, Clinton said, adding that Egyptians should make good on it by building an inclusive society that is more open, more prosperous and more free.

"To the people of Egypt, let me say: This moment of history belongs to you," Clinton said following talks with Egypt's new foreign minister, Nabil al-Araby. "This is your achievement and you broke barriers and overcame obstacles to pursue the dream of democracy."

Clinton applauded an announcement Tuesday of further dismantling of the state security apparatus and said Egypt now needs to prepare for free, fair elections to produce "leaders that will be able to respond to [your] aspirations."

Dismantling the State Security Investigations agency was a major demand of the protest movement that led an 18-day uprising to oust Mubarak. The agency is accused of torture and other human-rights abuses in the suppression of dissent against Mubarak's 30-year rule.

The new interior minister, Maj. Gen. Mansour el-Essawy, a former Cairo security chief, said in a statement that a new agency in charge of keeping national security and combating terrorism will be formed.

Clinton also announced that the U.S. would give Egypt $90 million in emergency economic aid and create a $60 million enterprise fund to help Egypt create jobs, something the U.S. did in central and Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"We know that political reform must be matched by economic reform," she said. "There must be jobs and rising incomes and opportunities for all."

Araby seemed pleased with Clinton's promises to help Egypt's economy and said they talked about many other changes in the Arab world: from faltering efforts to create a Palestinian state to the crisis in Libya. Though the U.S.-Egyptian relationship is likely more complex now, Araby said the relationship will endure.

"We hope the very close relationship with the United States will continue to flourish in the future," he said.

The conflict in Libya was also high on Clinton's agenda. Monday night, she spent 45 minutes at a Paris hotel with Mahmood Jabril, a representative of Libya's transitional council. Her aides say that she got a better sense of the Libyan opposition, though the U.S. and its partners still seem far from offering the kind of support rebels are seeking: a no-fly zone and bombing raids on Moammar Gahdafi's air bases.

At her news conference in Cairo on Tuesday, Clinton said any response must be an international one.

"We understand the urgency of this and therefore we are upping our humanitarian assistance," she said. "We are looking for ways to support the opposition with whom I met last night. But we believe that this has to be an international effort and there has to be decisions made in the Security Council in order for any of these steps to go forward."

The Arab League has endorsed the idea of a no-fly zone. U.S. officials want to see Arab countries step up to play a role — if such an idea gets international backing.

But the U.S. is concerned about Gulf states stepping into another conflict — in Bahrain, where protesters have been demanding political reforms. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates both sent in forces to back up the Bahraini government. Clinton called her Saudi counterpart Tuesday to urge restraint.

NPR's Michele Kelemen contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.