Cairo must begin the road back to democracy, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the head of Egypt’s army in a phone call.
Speaking to Egypt’s Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on Tuesday, Hagel urged his counterpart, who took over the country in a July 3 coup, to take steps to show the interim government is committed to advancing the political roadmap, the Pentagon said.
The two also discussed security in the Sinai Peninsula and Egyptian efforts to rebuild Coptic Christian communities affected by the violence in the region.
Egypt has been under the rule of a military-appointed interim government since the el-Sissi-led army deposed the country’s first freely elected leader, president Mohammed Morsi.
The ouster, which the US has taken pains to not classify as a coup, has strained once-close ties between the US and Egypt, causing the US to cancel military exercises with the Egyptian army and to review the status of $1.55 billion in annual military and economic aid.
While the interim government has listed a return to democracy as one of its top priorities, the country has been under state of emergency laws for over a month since security forces killed hundreds while clearing pro-Morsi protests, and the government recently extended them for another two months. Under emergency rules, the army can function as a state security force and has broad powers to arrest and detain people suspected of acting against the state.
In attempting to quell resistance, the new government has arrested hundreds of Morsi supporters on charges ranging from inciting violence to weapons possession and murder. It has also carried out a punishing crackdown on Islamists in the Sinai Peninsula. Over 70 Egyptian security force members and over 100 militants have been killed since Morsi’s ouster.
The government has also moved to shut down a number of media outlets, including the local al-Jazeera affiliate. The administrative court accused Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr and three other stations of violating broadcasting conditions and ordered their offices closed and broadcasts halted September 3.
Under the interim constitution, emergency laws can only be extended longer than three months after they are put to a public referendum. The Egyptian public has largely backed the military’s actions up to this point, but the deadline would test the army’s dedication to constitutional law and the public’s limits when it comes to the emergency laws they lived under for 50 years before the 2011 revolt against former president Hosni Mubarak.