CAIRO – Egyptian anti-government activists denounced the U.S. ambassador in Cairo Friday for a statement in which she criticized street protests as the opposition gears up for mass rallies to demand the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi.
The outrage mounted after Ambassador Anne Patterson said in a speech earlier this week that she is "deeply skeptical" that protests will be fruitful and defended U.S. relations with Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood as necessary because the group is part of the democratically elected Egyptian government.
"Some say that street action will produce better results than elections. To be honest, my government and I are deeply skeptical," she said Tuesday during a seminar organized by a Cairo research center. "Egypt needs stability to get its economic house in order, and more violence on the streets will do little more than add new names to the lists of martyrs."
Her unusually frank comments have been widely interpreted as referring to June 30 opposition-led protests. The day will mark Morsi's first-year in power and activists are using it as a rallying point. As a countermove, tens of thousands of Islamist supporters of Morsi held their own rally at a main Cairo boulevard on Friday, warning of "violence" during the upcoming opposition rallies.
Leading opposition activist Shady el-Ghazali Harb said Patterson showed "blatant bias" in favor of Morsi and the Brotherhood and her remarks had earned the U.S. administration "the enmity of the Egyptian people."
"The Muslim Brotherhood is ready to offer Egypt on a golden platter to the United States in exchange for Washington's support. It is no surprise that she would say that," he said.
Another prominent opposition activist, George Ishaq, counseled Patterson in a television interview to "shut up and mind your own business." Christian business tycoon Naguib Sawiris posted a message on his Twitter account addressed to the ambassador saying "Bless us with your silence."
In the year since Morsi came to power, Egypt has been locked in political crisis as critics accuse him of monopolizing power, with waves of street protests against his rule turning into deadly clashes and rioting that have prevented the country from achieving stability after the 2011 revolution that ousted autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak.
Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, narrowly won the presidency in a run-off last June against Ahmed Shafiq, the last Mubarak-era prime minister.
The United States has had its own frustrations with the mainly liberal and secular opposition to Morsi, which has been beset by divisions. During a visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Egypt in March, he pressed the main opposition grouping, the National Salvation Front, to reverse its decision to boycott parliamentary elections expected later this year or early in 2014.
The opposition accuses Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood of failing to carry out reforms while his allies seek to instill a more religiously conservative system. Morsi's administration and the Brotherhood, in turn, say their opponents are trying to use street unrest to overturn their election victories.
Washington, Egypt's longtime economic and military backer, has maintained relatively warm ties with Morsi. The Obama administration has praised him for mediating a truce late last year between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic militant rulers of the Gaza Strip, and for maintaining Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.
"This is the government that you and your fellow citizens elected. Even if you voted for others, I don't think the elected nature of this government is seriously in doubt," Patterson told Tuesday's seminar. "Throughout Egypt's post-revolution series of elections, the United States took the position that we would work with whoever won elections that met international standards, and this is what we have done."
Meanwhile, privately owned TV network ONTV aired footage of what it said was Patterson's convoy of black SUVs in a visit to Khairat el-Shater, a powerful figure in the Muslim Brotherhood who is widely suspected to exercise vast influence over Morsi.
The visit also drew criticism from the opposition. The U.S. Embassy declined comment.
"Is this democracy that she visits a man who holds no post in the Egyptian state," Harb commented.
Morad Ali, spokesman for the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party, confirmed the meeting but said he was not authorized to disclose details.
"It was not a secret meeting. The ambassador meets with all political parties and this is the deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Why is this considered interference in Egypt's domestic affairs?" he said.