The Obama administration sought to downplay anti-American protests in Egypt after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's motorcade was pelted with shoes and tomatoes on Sunday.
The incident came as Clinton was leaving the port city of Alexandria after delivering a speech on human rights, and a day after her meeting with Egypt's new president, Mohammed Morsi.
Shoes and a water bottle landed near her motorcade, Reuters reported, and a tomato hit an Egyptian official in the face. The protesters, whose affiliation wasn't immediately clear, also taunted Clinton with shouts of “Monica, Monica,” in reference to her husband Bill Clinton's affair with intern Monica Lewinsky when he was president.
'Egypt’s a country of 90 million people, and so it’s easy to over-read a small group of pretty energetic protestors and what that says,” the official said.
Clinton is the most senior U.S. official to date to meet with the new president, and her trip was closely watched across the Middle East. Her visit came amid a growing power struggle between Egypt's military generals and the newly elected Morsi, a member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.
The administration is aiming to convey a balanced approach, calling on the Egyptian armed forces to respect the country's democratic aspirations while urging Morsi to respect minority religious rights and the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
Clinton's trip wasn't flawless, evidence in part of Egyptians' newfound freedom to speak their mind after the fall of longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak last year. Protesters chanted anti-Islamist slogans outside Clinton's hotel in Cairo on Saturday, Reuters reported, and several Christian leaders refused to attend her human-rights speech in Alexandria.
Clinton used the event to say that the United States is not seeking to influence Egyptian elections, despite the $1.5 billion in annual aid it provides to the strategically vital ally.
“I want to be clear that the United States is not in the business, in Egypt, of choosing winners and losers, even if we could, which of course we cannot,” she said. “We want to stand for principles, for values, not for people or for parties.”
The administration has been forced to take a cautious approach in reaching out to Morsi for fear of alienating Egypt's military and many GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill who have pressured the White House to take a tougher stance against the Islamist president.