Egypt's military-installed leaders must prove they are serious about bringing democracy to the world's largest Arab nation, US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted Tuesday.
He delivered the stern warning as he met with Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy — the highest level visit to Washington by an Egyptian official since the army ousted elected Islamist leader Mohamed Morsi in July, throwing US policy towards Cairo into disarray.
"We all know there have been disturbing decisions within the judicial process," Kerry said, highlighting recent mass death sentences against hundreds of alleged supporters of Morsy's Muslim Brotherhood.
"Clearly Egypt has been going through a very difficult transitional process," Kerry said at the start of the two men's talks in the State Department.
"We want the interim government to be successful. We are hopeful and look for a political process of inclusivity, a constitution implemented which brings people politically to the table and broadens the democratic base."
But he warned Fahmy he would raise the "serious challenges" posed by the court decisions "very candidly" to ensure the implementation of democracy and "Egypt's re-emergence's on the world stage."
The US administration last week partially lifted a six-month freeze on some $1.5 billion in mostly military US aid to Cairo — a key regional ally.
Washington has agreed to deliver 10 Apache helicopters for counterterrorism efforts in the unruly Sinai peninsula and some $650 million in military aid, but withheld the rest of the funding until democratic progress is made.
"We are really looking for certain things to happen that will give people some confidence about this road ahead. It's actions not words that will make the difference," Kerry said.
Fahmy replied that Egypt's courts were independent and the government could not interfere in the judicial process, but he predicted that once the process has played out "we will end up with proper decisions in each of these cases."
"I come now representing a people that want democracy, that want to be stakeholders in their future," Fahmy said.
But he warned that the transformation in Egypt "was societal, not simply changing one president for another."
Long-time Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak was ousted by popular protests in early 2011, leading to a military-run government which organized elections in 2012.
Islamist leader Morsi became the country's first democratically-elected president, but he disappointed Egyptians hoping for deeper democratic reforms, leading to months of further bloody protests until he was ousted by the army last year.
New presidential elections are due next month, after Egypt adopted a constitution , which Kerry praised as a "positive" step.
"We will build a democracy based on the rule of law, and rule of law means applying laws that are consistent with the constitution … independent and credible to us all," Fahmy vowed.
"And that's a commitment that I make not to you here in Washington, but to my own people."
During their talks, Kerry also raised the issue of three journalists working for Qatar-based network Al-Jazeera who have been held for some four months on allegations of links to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Kerry "pressed for their release… as well as a range of individuals who have been detained, and he made clear that they must change the course on human rights," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.