British Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday became the first foreign leader to visit Egypt since the downfall of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, which electrified the Middle East and forced the West to rethink its policies in the region.
Cameron’s arrival came hot on the heels of a visit by US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, who started a visit to Egypt in which he will meet with the army-led interim government as well as political groups.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is due to arrive in Egypt today to discuss the post-Mubarak era in which the army is running the country while setting up free elections to deliver civilian rule and democracy.
Uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia have spread like wildfire in the Arab world, threatening entrenched dynasties from Libya to Bahrain.
The West has watched with alarm as long-time allies and foes came under threat, urging reform and restraint.
The Muslim Brotherhood, once banned and playing a growing role in the new Egypt, rejected a government reshuffle yesterday, calling for a purge of the old guard Cabinet appointed by Mubarak.
“I think this is a great opportunity to talk to those currently running Egypt to make sure this really is a genuine transition from military rule to civilian rule,” Cameron said before arriving in Cairo.
A British official traveling with Cameron said he would meet members of the former opposition to Mubarak, but not the Brotherhood, which is Egypt’s most organized political grouping and regarded with suspicion in the West.
In a bid to placate pro--democracy activists, the reshuffle late on Sunday named several Mubarak opponents, but disappointed those eager for a new line-up as key defense, foreign, justice, interior and finance portfolios were left unchanged.
Egypt’s new military rulers, who took over after an 18-day uprising ended 30 years of Mubarak’s iron rule, have said changes in the Constitution for elections in six months should be ready soon and hated emergency laws would be lifted before the polls.
However, for many democracy advocates, who want a completely new Cabinet with no links to Mubarak’s corrupt and autocratic elite to govern the Arab world’s most populous nation, the military needs to put fresh faces in office.
“No one offered us any post and had they done so, we would have refused because we request what the public demands — that this government quit as it is part of the former regime,” said Essam El-Erian, a senior member of the Brotherhood. “We want a new technocratic government that has no connection with the old era.”
The Brotherhood, which says it wants a democracy with Islamic principles, is represented on a constitutional change committee, a council to protect the revolution and will register as soon as new rules allow.
Uncertainty remains over how much influence Egypt’s military will seek to exert in reshaping a ruling system that it has propped up for six decades, with diplomats saying it is vital to “create an open political space.”
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