“They wonder, understandably, will a government looking explicitly to greater reliance on Islamic principles stand up for non-Muslims and Muslims equally?” Clinton said after her return. “Since this is the first time that Egypt has ever been in this situation, it’s a fair question.”
“As I monitor what is happening in Egypt,” Clinton said, “I am conscious of how challenging it is to get off on the right footing.” Morsi and the Brotherhood have made “commitments about the kind of inclusivity that the government would represent. . . . We are waiting to see how that gets translated into action.”
During a visit to Cairo on July 31, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta was less tentative. “I was convinced that President Morsi is his own man,” Panetta said, “and that he is the president of all the Egyptian people.”
Panetta praised what he called the “very good relationship” between Morsi and Tantawi, adding that they were “working together towards the same ends.” Less than two weeks later, the defense chief was gone.
Despite its optimistic public assessment, the Pentagon was still struggling to make sense of the removal of the top brass. “I don’t think we have a read yet on what this all means,” said a senior military official who is among those analyzing the new appointments. “But there isn’t a lot of concern at this point.”
Officials stressed Sissi’s long working relationship with the United States in his previous post as director of military intelligence. A member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Sissi participated in negotiations with Washington over equipment and technology covered by the annual $1.3 billion U.S. aid package.
The only red flag in his thin public record is Sissi’s acknowledgment that military officials conducted “virginity tests” on female demonstrators during the revolution. Sissi told human rights activists that the tests were carried out so women could not claim to have been raped while interrogated. Sissi has acknowledged, the administration official said, that the tests were a mistake.
Other new appointments were similarly greeted with relief, a reaction U.S. officials said was largely shared by Israel. Gen. Mohammed al-Assar, named Sissi’s deputy, has also been deeply involved in the U.S.-Egypt relationship.
The administration is anxious to strengthen its relationship with Sissi in the coming weeks. Charting a collaborative plan to restore order in the restless Sinai peninsula, which Washington has come to see as a dire threat to Israel, will probably be at the top of the agenda. More broadly, the United States is likely to press Sissi over time to shift the focus of Egyptian military leaders from heavy armor and war plans toward a more nimble and flexible force.
Panetta expected to speak with Sissi “very soon,” the senior defense official said. The Pentagon, he said, “has been in discussions [with Egypt] about ways to increase information-sharing on a variety of issues and ways of cooperating even more.” although no new programs have been agreed on.
“We don’t see it” as a turning point, this official said of Egypt’s new military leadership. “It’s not surprising that a new government would come in and want to install its own leadership. That occurs in governments around the world.”
Ernesto Londoño in Cairo and Greg Jaffe in Washington contributed to this report.