Thousands of Egyptian Islamists turned out on Friday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand that current President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, impose stricter interpretation of Shariah or Islamic law in the country’s constitution.
The protesters also sought the release from a U.S. prison of Egyptian terrorist Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the “Blind Sheikh” who is serving a life term for his role in the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
Egypt’s government has asked the Obama administration to release Abdel-Rahman, and according to Rep. Peter T. King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, administration officials have asked U.S. law enforcement officials about a possible release. Publicly, administration spokesmen have said there are no plans for freeing the sheikh.
According to press reports, fighting broke out among Egyptian protesters that involved pro- and anti-Muslim Brotherhood activists who shouted at the protesters and denounced the Brotherhood and Mr. Morsi.
Asia Pivot: Walking and Chewing
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s trip this week to Asia was largely overshadowed by the sex scandal that engulfed CIA Director David H. Petraeus and also delayed the promotion of Gen. John Allen, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Concerns over the coming fiscal crisis and a possible $660 billion defense budget cut also dominated debate in Washington this week and distracted attention from the Pentagon’s new shift to Asia.
Still, Mr. Panetta said the new defense strategy is “very important,” and he outlined the Pentagon’s so-called pivot to Asia in a meeting with reporters aboard his Air Force jet on the way to Australia for a ministerial meeting.
Asked whether the shift of forces and alliances to Asia would undermine security efforts in the Middle East, the defense secretary said:
“Look, the United States is the strongest military power in the world, and we remain the strongest military power in the world. And that means that we can walk and chew gum at the same time, which means that we have to cover the threats that exist in the world, not just in the Asia-Pacific region, but throughout the world. And that’s what we’re doing.”
In Asia, Mr. Panetta outlined the steps being taken to bolster forces in the region that defense officials say is covertly aimed at countering China’s new high-tech weaponry but publicly described as advancing general peace and security.
“I want to stress for all of you that the rebalancing to this region is a very important part of the new defense strategy that we announced, and that the effort to rebalance is real,” Mr. Panetta said.
“It’s going to be long term. I mean part of this is long-term strategy and in which we’ll continue to work at this. But we’ve also made some very tangible progress at rebalancing just in this past year.”
The new steps include sending of some 2,000 Marines to Darwin, Australia; sending up to four new littoral combat ships to Singapore; and continuing the Bush administration policy of shifting Navy forces to the Pacific so that 60 percent of warships are in the area.
Other steps include deploying V-22 tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft and F-22 jets to Japan and increasing cooperation with South Korea on space and cyberspace. There are also plans to increase U.S. military presence in Philippines and to establish closer defense cooperation with India.