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CAIRO — Egypt’s newly elected President Mohammed Morsi flew to Ethiopia on Sunday to attend an African Union summit in an attempt to rekindle Cairo’s relations with the continent after years of neglect under his predecessor Hosni Mubarak.
Morsi, who visited Saudi Arabia last week on his first official trip abroad since taking office, will be the first Egyptian leader to attend an African summit since 1995, when Mubarak, who was ousted in last year’s popular uprising, survived an assassination attempt en route to one in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. The attack was blamed on Muslim militants.
Under Mubarak, Egypt’s foreign policy primarily focused on the country’s chief donors — the U.S., Western Europe and Gulf Arab states led by Saudi Arabia. As a result, Cairo’s relations with its African neighbors deteriorated.
Morsi’s attendance at the summit has been touted as an attempt by the Islamist leader to improve relations with Nile basin nations, some of which are frustrated with what they see as Egypt’s disproportionately large share of the river’s waters under an agreement reached in 1959 when much of the region was still under colonial rule.
Ethiopia is home to the source of the Blue Nile, which flows downstream to Sudan and then farther north to Egypt. The Blue Nile contributes the majority of the river’s water from the point it meets the White Nile outside Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, and all the way north of Egypt’s Mediterranean coast.
Morsi’s departure Sunday came a day after his efforts to recall Egypt’s Islamist-led parliament dissolved by the military last month suffered a setback. An appeals court said Saturday that it stood by another court’s ruling that the chamber was invalid because a third of its members were illegally elected.
Acting on the Supreme Constitutional Court’s June 14 verdict, the then-ruling military disbanded the 508-seat chamber.
Morsi defied that ruling and ordered the legislature to reconvene last week. During a brief session of parliament on Tuesday, speaker Saad el-Katatni referred the constitutional court’s ruling to the country’s highest appeals court for a legal opinion.
After a lengthy discussion on Saturday, the appeals court refused to take up the case, saying it had no jurisdiction over the implementation of the constitutional court’s ruling.
It was not immediately clear how Morsi, a longtime leader of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, would respond, but visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham urged him on Saturday to open a dialogue with the generals as a way of preserving Egypt’s transition to democracy.
Clinton said that resolving the impasse “requires dialogue and compromise, real politics.” The United States, she added, is doing all it can to “support the democratically elected government and to help make it a success in delivering results for the people of Egypt.”
Clinton met Sunday with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Egypt’s top general and Mubarak’s longtime defense minister.
Morsi and the generals who handed over power to him on June 30 are locked in a tense political standoff.
The generals, who ruled Egypt for 16 months after Mubarak’s ouster, have retained vast powers. Days before Morsi was sworn in, they issued a decree that gave themselves legislative and budgetary authority and control over the process of drafting a new constitution.