Panetta, in Cairo, Voices Confidence That Morsi Is ‘President of All’ Egyptians
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta played down concerns Tuesday about a rift between Egypt’s newly elected president and its military chief following a brief stopover in Cairo aimed at giving senior U.S. officials a better sense of how the country’s first Islamist administration will govern.
The recent election of President Mohamed Morsi, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, has provoked unease among secular Egyptians, the military and Egyptian Christians, who worry that the country’s Islamists will upend a long tradition of secular rule.
“I was convinced that President Morsi is his own man, and that he is the president of all the Egyptian people,” Panetta told reporters.
The United States maintains a close relationship with the Egyptian military, which receives about $1.3 billion annually in U.S aid, and is eager to maintain those ties as it prods the ruling military council to turn power over to the new government, despite its lingering wariness. Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the council’s head, recently vowed not to let Egypt fall to a “certain group.”
Panetta met with Tantawi earlier in the day and then was accompanied by the military leader to the presidential palace, where they met jointly with Morsi. “It is my view, based on what I have seen, that President Morsi and Field Marshal Tantawi have a very good relationship and are working together towards the same ends,” the U.S. defense secretary said.