Press Availability in Cairo, Egypt

Press Availability
William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary of State
Cairo, Egypt
July 15, 2013

The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Good afternoon, everyone. Ramadan Kareem. I’d like to begin by offering my condolences for the victims of the terrible bus attack in the Sinai earlier today.

It’s good to be back in Egypt, a country which I’ve been fortunate to visit many times over the years, and for which I have great respect. This is a moment of both considerable challenges and significant promise for Egyptians. It’s a moment when Egyptians have a second chance to put their post-revolutionary transition on a successful path. Second chances are rare in the life of any country; rarer still are leaders and people who have the wisdom and courage to take full advantage of them

President Obama and Secretary Kerry asked me to come to Cairo at this important moment to listen to Egyptian voices directly and to make clear what the United States stands for and how we can help. I’m meeting during this visit with a wide range of Egyptians, including the civilian transitional government, the Egyptian armed forces, political party representatives, religious leaders, civil society activists and the business community.

My message has been simple: The United States remains deeply committed to Egypt’s democratic success and prosperity. We want a strong Egypt; an Egypt which is stable, democratic, inclusive, and tolerant; an Egypt which address the needs and respects the rights of all of its citizens. That is the Egypt that Egyptians deserve. That is the Egypt that can lead the rest of the region to a better future, as it has done so often during its rich and proud history. And that is the Egypt that can remain a pillar of moderation and regional peace at a time when violent extremists across the Middle East prey on frustration and hopelessness.

Let me try to be equally clear about another point: Only Egyptians can determine their future. I did not come with American solutions, nor did I come to lecture anyone. We know that Egyptians must forge their own path to democracy. We know that this will not mirror our own, and we will not try to impose our model on Egypt.

What the United States will do is stand behind certain basic principles, not any particular personalities or parties. Despite our concerns about the developments of the past two weeks, we believe that the ongoing transition is another opportunity, following the January 25th revolution, to create a democratic state that protects human rights and the rule of law and that enables the economic prosperity of its citizens. We hope it will be a chance to learn some of the lessons and correct some of the mistakes of the past two years. We hope it will be a chance to meet the aspirations of the revolution to ensure justice without revenge and to focus on a future shared by all Egyptians.

We know none of this will be easy. We know it will take time with small steps leading to larger ones, and we know it will require support from Egypt’s friends. I believe from my discussions here that Egyptians understand that the first priority must be to end violence and incitement, prevent retribution, and begin a serious and substantive dialogue among all sides and all political parties. A dialogue could help return calm so that people can go about their normal activities without fear. It would also help lead to an end to the very disturbing surge of attacks against women. For our part, we condemn violence at demonstrations and violent attacks on the security forces in the Sinai. We condemn the very troubling sectarian violence that could continue and worsen. And we have called for maximum restraint on the part of the security forces and an end to any abuses as they deal with public demonstrations. Above all, it is deeply in the self-interest of Egyptians to ease the polarization that can poison their society.

Egypt now has an interim president, a transitional prime minister, and a roadmap for amendment of the December 2012 constitution – a popular referendum on the revised constitution – followed by parliamentary and presidential elections. We hope that this roadmap will hasten Egypt’s return to a democratically-elected civilian government as soon as possible. But my sense is that people realize that what is most important is that the process be transparent and inclusive.

During my meetings, we discussed the importance for Egypt of a broadly accepted constitution. To achieve that, the amendment process should be open, transparent, and inclusive, so that an informed public can have channels for input into the document before the referendum. Experience teaches us that civil society can make a valuable contribution to such an amendment process. So can a media whose freedom is not restricted.

As in any country, people will expect that the elections that follow an approved constitution be credible and lead to the creation of strong civilian institutions. I think that most can agree that a sustained dialogue can help Egypt reach this goal. If representatives of some of the largest parties in Egypt are detained or excluded, how are dialogue and participation possible? The government itself has said it wants inclusion of all political streams. We’ve called on the military to avoid any politically motivated arrests and we have also called upon those who differ with the government to adhere to their absolute obligation to participate peacefully. It is hard to picture how Egypt will be able to emerge from this crisis unless its people come together to find a nonviolent and inclusive path forward.

Let me add a final point on another second chance for Egypt, a chance to renew its economy after a period during which many needs of the Egyptian people were not addressed. We hope the transitional government seizes this opportunity and is given the authority to take the necessary decisions that can create new jobs, restore the tourism industry and the revenues and jobs it produces, spur the development of small businesses, and re-attract Egyptian and foreign investment. We support the adoption of reforms that can lead to an early IMF agreement while sustaining funding for social safety net programs. We believe these measures offer a path to address the entirely justifiable aspirations of the revolution and realize the economic potential of Egypt and its people. It is crucial, as Egyptians know far better than I ever will, to get these economic choices right. No democratic political transition can succeed without a sense of economic hope and possibility.

The United States is firmly committed to helping Egypt succeed in this second chance to realize the promise of the revolution. I am not naive; I know that many Egyptians have doubts about the United States and I know that there will be nothing neat or easy about the road ahead. The truth is that only Egyptians themselves can make the hard choices required to build an inclusive, tolerant, democratic future. But as they make those choices, I also know that they will find a determined partner in the United States. Thank you, and now I’d be glad to take a couple questions.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Middle East News Agency. Mr. William, your government called the current Egyptian authority to release Mr. Mohamed Morsy and other leaders of Muslim Brotherhood. What is the response?

The second point: Do you have any idea for Egyptian authorities or Muslim Brotherhood to get out of this circle of violence which is threatened Egypt to go into another Syrian scenario? Thank you.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: To answer the last part of your question, I don’t think that Egypt is in danger of repeating the tragedy that we see in Syria today. The lessons of that horrible experience are clear to everyone across the region.

It seems to me, based on my conversations over the last day and a half and previous conversations in Egypt, that Egyptians understand very well the dangers of polarization. They understand the risks that escalating tensions amongst different parts of the society can pose to the chances of genuine reconciliation. Egyptians have before them a political roadmap. What’s essential now is to ensure a sense of inclusion, so that at every stage in that roadmap – in the drafting of amendments to the constitution, in elections for parliament and for President, and in the formation of the interim cabinet – Egyptians from across the political spectrum feel a sense of ownership and a stake in that process. It seems to me that those are the principles that Egyptians have fought for over the course of the last two and a half years, those are the principles that were embodied in the revolution of January 25th, and those are the principles that the United States is going to continue to do everything that we can to support.

So the choices involved are ones that only Egyptians can make. As I said before, those specific choices are not the business of Americans. We don’t take the side of particular personalities or particular parties. The only side we take is the side of those fundamental democratic principles, and the side of the Egyptian people in the pursuit of those principles and in their efforts to make them a reality. And that’s something we’re committed to trying to do everything we can to support over the coming weeks and months and years.

QUESTION: And on the response about Mr. Morsy’s release?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: We’ll have to see. You’ll have to ask the Egyptian authorities about that. But we’ve made our views clear on that issue. Thank you.

MODERATOR: We’d like to take our second question now (inaudible).

QUESTION: Hi. Regarding the --


QUESTION: Hi. My name is Basant Zeineldin. Does the U.S. regret that it has not been able to be responsive to Egyptian People twice, on 25 Jan and on 30 June? Until now, has there been some sort of contradiction in administration statements before and after ousting Morsy?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Thanks for the question. All I can say in response is essentially what I tried to say in my opening statement, and that is that the United States believes very strongly that the Egyptian people deserve democratic institutions, which is what the revolution on January 25th was all about. Those are choices that only Egyptians can make, as you know better than I do, but the effort to apply those principles and make them a reality is something the United States is going to strongly support. It is not our business as Americans, as outsiders, to support particular political personalities or particular parties. That’s the business of Egyptians.

What we will continue to try to do is to support an open, inclusive, tolerant, democratic process, which is going to be the only way to build broad popular confidence in the sorts of institutions that are the aim of the revolution. And at the same time, as I’ve said before, I think there’s an opportunity for economic renewal in the months ahead. I do understand very well that there’s no way in which a democratic political transition is going to succeed without a sense of economic hope and possibility. And that’s something that not only the United States, but many friends of Egypt around the world, can contribute to.

Again, the difficult economic choices can only be made by Egyptians, but there’s support that the United States has provided over the years that we look forward to continuing to provide and that some of Egypt’s friends in the region are providing now. I think the IMF can provide a useful means of helping to strengthen and rebuild Egypt’s economic reputation in the world.

Egypt has demonstrated in the past a record of fairly significant economic growth. For the better part of a decade, Egypt was growing at a rate of nearly 7 percent a year. The problem, of course, as you know better than I do, is that the benefits of that growth weren’t spread across society. And so that’s in a sense what the revolution is all about, is to provide equal political opportunities for people and equal economic opportunities as well. And those are the kind of opportunities that the United States will do everything we can to help support and help bring about.

So thank you all.