CAIRIO: Egypt's likely next president, retired military chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, says ties with the United States and the West will improve after elections next week, confident that a strong show of public support will prove that Egyptians wanted the ouster of the country's Islamist president, which threw relations between the two allies into their worst strains ever.
But it will likely be a troubled road toward warming the chill between Cairo and Washington. Egypt's security forces have waged a fierce crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist backers of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, as well as against secular-minded youth activists.
Asked in a recent TV interview whether the Brotherhood will no longer exist under presidency, el-Sissi replied in the affirmative: "Yes. Just like that."
El-Sissi, considered certain to win presidential elections taking place Monday and Tuesday, has made clear he wants better ties, but on his terms. The retired field marshal has also raised worries in Egypt and the United States over potential restrictions on freedoms and civil rights, with his tough line against dissent as he pushes for stability he says is needed to repair the economy. Tamara Cofman Wittes, the Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, described the Egyptian-US relations as in a moment of reflection because direction is not clear.
Both sides "know their relations are important. They value the cooperation ... but publicly they are reluctant to engage," Wittes said.
El-Sissi removed Morsi on July 3 after protests by millions demanding that the Islamist leader go, and since then, supporters of the move have furiously rejected the idea that it was a military coup, saying the ouster was the people's will.
After much deliberation, Washington decided not to declare it a coup, a step that would have required a cut-off in aid. Still, after hundreds of Morsi's protesting supporters were killed in an escalating crackdown in August, the United States withheld millions of the more than USD 1.5 billion in aid a year that it provides Egypt, mostly to the military.
Also, Washington left the post of its ambassador in Cairo vacant after the departure of Anne Patterson, now an assistant secretary of state, who was fiercely criticized by many Egyptians who accused her of supporting the Brotherhood. Since Morsi's ouster, Egyptian media have been enflamed with anger at the United States, accusing it of backing the Brotherhood, raising conspiracy theories about the United States working with the Islamists to divide Egypt.
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