US Secretary of State John Kerry has met the Egyptian president as he wraps up a trip to Cairo, where he urged divided factions to reach a consensus that would pave the way for economic recovery.
Before going into talks with President Mohamed Morsi on Sunday, Kerry met army chief Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
Kerry flew in to Cairo from Turkey on Saturday and urged a wide range of political and business leaders to reach a consensus, after months of political turmoil and unrest.
“There must be a willingness on all sides to make meaningful compromises on the issues that matter most to the Egyptian people,” Kerry told reporters after talks on Saturday with Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr.
“We do believe that in this moment of economic challenge that it is important for the Egyptian people to come together around the economic choices and to find some common ground in making those choices,” he said.
Kerry’s visit, his first to the Arab world since being sworn in last month, comes with Egypt deeply divided between Morsi’s mainly Islamist allies and a wide-ranging opposition that accuses Morsi of failing to address the country’s economic needs and political concerns.
During his trip, Kerry urged the Egyptian government to finalise a long-stalled loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Also on Sunday, Egyptian Finance Minister al-Mursi al-Sayed Hegazy said he hopes a deal on a $4.8bn IMF loan can be agreed before parliamentary elections begin on April 22.
The deal was agreed in principle last November but put on hold at Cairo’s request following unrest on Egyptian streets.
“We expect that an agreement will happen before the elections,” Higazy told reporters. “I expect and am hopeful this deal can be made before the elections.”
Egypt’s foreign reserves have plummeted in the two years since the revolution that overthrew longtime president Hosni Mubarak: Egypt’s central bank now has less than $13.6bn in its coffers, down from $36bn in January 2011.
Egyptian officials said on Thursday that they will soon invite an IMF team to reopen talks on the loan, which was agreed in November but suspended following weeks of violent protests.
But the deal has been controversial in Egypt, because the IMF wants the government to implement economic reforms as a prerequisite for the loan. Those reforms could include reductions to subsidies on food, fuel and other essentials, which would hurt millions of Egyptians living below the poverty line.
Violent protests broke out for the second day in a row in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura. One person was killed there on Saturday, crushed to death by a police vehicle, acccording to activists, and dozens more were wounded. Dozens of police officers were also hurt.
In the Suez Canal city of Port Said, meanwhile, protesters set fire to a police station.
The protests were not related to Kerry’s visit, but they highlighted the deep political turmoil in Egypt just weeks ahead of April’s parliamentary election.
The National Salvation Front (NSF), the main opposition bloc, announced last week that it would boycott the election, a decision the US has urged them to reconsider. That angered many members of the opposition, who see the US stance as legitimising what they call an unfair election.
Several leading political figures – including Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the UN’s nuclear agency, and Hamdeen Sabbahi, the leftist who placed third in last year’s presidential election – refused an invitation to meet with Kerry on Saturday.
The US State Department said he did speak by telephone with ElBaradei, who heads the NSF. Kerry also met with Amr Moussa, a longtime diplomat and prominent member of the group.