U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday toured Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the popular uprising that toppled Egypt’s longtime autocratic leader last month. Surrounded by a heavy contingent of U.S. and Egyptian security guards, Clinton smiled, waved and shook hands with the Egyptian citizens who thronged her during her unscheduled 15-minute stroll through the square.
Clinton walked through the square for almost 10 minutes, attracting a subdued but welcoming crowd of curious onlookers who shouted “Welcome to Egypt!”. She stopped in front of the Interior Ministry building and asked her guides from the embassy details about the weeks-long protests that shook and eventually tumbled the 30-year rule of former president Hosni Mubarak.
“To see where this revolution happened and all that it has meant to the world is extraordinary for me. It’s just a great reminder of the power of the human spirit and desire for human rights and democracy. It’s just thrilling to see where this happened,” she said. Egyptians in the square pressed against her security detail—some managing to push their way through to shake her hand—and almost all snapped photos with their cell phones.
Mrs. Clinton’s visit to Cairo is the first by a high-ranking administration official since the revolution. Sens. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and and Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, paid a visit to the square in late February and got a similarly warm welcome, said officials from the U.S. embassy.
“Thank you for walking the streets of Tahrir!” shouted one man atop a bench as Mrs. Clinton finished her tour.
Minutes later, as she entered a meeting with prime minister Essam Sharaf, the secretary said “It was very exciting and moving for me to go to Tahrir Square and to have some sense of what those amazing days must have been like here in Cairo.”
Mrs. Clinton will meet with representatives of Egyptian civil society later Wednesday before heading to Tunisia to meet with government officials there.
Secretary Clinton’s trip to Egypt comes at a crucial time between U.S. and Egyptian relations, especially with the removal of Mubarak. It is in the U.S.’s interest to at least maintain working relations with the current and future emerging government that might not be too fond of a close relationship with Washington. The relationship between the U.S. military and Egyptian military will be close, the wild card will be the political relationship given the newly acquired political space that the Muslim brotherhood has gained.