By Arshad Mohammed
PARIS (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Egypt on Tuesday to urge its military rulers to lay the ground for a genuine transition to democracy and offer support to the citizens that toppled Hosni Mubarak from power.
The highest U.S. official to visit the country since the February 11 ouster of the former president, who had been a close U.S. ally, Clinton's visit is less a victory lap about the virtues of democracy than a cautionary tale about its challenges.
In speeches in recent weeks, the U.S. secretary of state has stressed the difficulties of nurturing the institutions that support democracy, including robust political parties, a free media and the rule of law.
In Egypt's case, the task may be all the harder given the vacuum left by Mubarak's 30 years in power in which he crushed dissent, blocked the creation of new parties and ensured that legal opposition parties posed no serious challenge.
"Transitions to democracy are fraught. Jobs and economic opportunities do not materialize overnight. Democratic dreams can be dashed by new autocrats or ideologues who use violence or deception to seize power or advance an undemocratic agenda," Clinton said in a speech on Friday.
"Elections only work if their results are respected and if they are embedded in a durable democratic framework of strong institutions, the rule of law, a vibrant civil society, and human rights protections for everyone," she added.
Asked to summarize Clinton's message, a U.S. official said: "What happens next is as important as what came before. Transitions to democracy are difficult and they don't produce results overnight or end with the first successful election."
WORRIES ABOUT TIMETABLE
Clinton plans to see Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby on Tuesday and then to meet Egyptian civil society activists.
Middle East analysts said the United States has concerns about the electoral timetable in Egypt, which is now being run by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces chaired by Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.
The army dissolved parliament, suspended the constitution and mapped a path to elections within six months, with a March 19 vote on constitutional amendments, parliamentary elections in June and a presidential vote six weeks later.
Millions of Egyptians have taken to the streets since January 25, first to demand Mubarak's overthrow and later to remind their new military rulers of their desire for broad change.
But the short electoral timetable allows little time for political parties to organize, a fact that could benefit the Muslim Brotherhood, long suppressed by Mubarak and his state security, and disadvantage other parties.
While the military shows no sign of wanting to hang on to power, in this instance some analysts believe a slightly slower transition might better prepare the ground for competitive elections and more extensive constitutional reform.
"The United States has a lot of concerns about what is going on. They have to show their public support for democracy. But Congress is up in arms about the Muslim Brotherhood," said Marina Ottaway, director of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank.
(Editing by Michael Roddy)