CAIRO  - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday reaffirmed Washington's "strong support" for Egypt's democratic transition, after talks with newly-elected President Mohamed Mursi.

"I have come to Cairo to reaffirm the strong support of the United States for the Egyptian people and their democratic transition," Clinton said at a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr after the meeting.

"We want to be a good partner and we want to support the democracy that has been achieved by the courage and sacrifice of the Egyptian people," she said. During her two-day visit to Egypt, the top US diplomat will also meet Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi - the country's interim military ruler after Hosni Mubarak was ousted in an uprising last year - as well as women activists and Coptic leaders. Clinton steps into the political maelstrom of a complex power struggle between the Islamist president and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that ruled Egypt after Mubarak was toppled.

"Democracy is hard," she said. "It requires dialogue and compromise and real politics. We are encouraged and we want to be helpful. But we know it is not for the United States it is for the Egyptian people to decide."

Clinton's meeting with Mursi, a longtime member of the Muslim Brotherhood, comes after the country's first free presidential elections following the ouster of decades-old US ally Mubarak. "We are very, very keen to meet you and happy you are here," Mursi told Clinton as they headed into their meeting at the presidential palace in Cairo's upmarket Heliopolis suburb. Last week, Mursi ordered parliament to convene, defying a military decision to disband the house after the country's top court ruled it invalid.

Mursi's decree was applauded by supporters who believed the court's decision to disband parliament was political, but it set off a firestorm of criticism from opponents who accused him of overstepping his authority.

The origins of the battle for parliament lay in the constitutional declaration issued by the SCAF before the president was sworn in. The declaration, which acts as a temporary constitution, granted the military sweeping powers, including legislative control, and rendered the presidential post little more than symbolic.

Mursi's decision was seen as an opening shot in a power struggle between Egypt's first civilian leader and the Mubarak-appointed generals who wanted to retain broad powers even after they transferred control on June 30. But on Wednesday, the president said he would respect a court ruling overturning his decree, in an apparent bid to mollify an infuriated judiciary and the military. "President Mursi made clear he understands the success of his presidency and Egypt's transition depends on building consensus across Egypt's political spectrum; to work on a new constitution' to protect civil society; to draft a new constitution that will be respected by all and to assert the full authority of the presidency," Clinton said. As the two met, several hundred protesters gathered outside the US embassy in Cairo to denounce what they said was "US interference in domestic affairs," the official MENA news agency reported. Before the meeting, a top State Department official told reporters that Clinton will in her talks also focus on the protection of religious minorities and of women.

She will "stress her deep belief that Egypt's democracy can only be successful, and the aspirations of the revolution can only be redeemed if the rights of all Egyptians are protected, including the rights of minorities, including religious minorities and the rights of women," the official said.

The post-revolution rise of the Islamists has raised fears among women and among the country's 10-million-strong Christian community concerning the guarantee of personal freedoms.

Islamists scored a crushing victory in three-stage parliamentary elections held from November last year, with the Muslim Brotherhood - from which Mursi stepped down before he was sworn in - heading the lower house.

Treatment of women is something Clinton "certainly worries about and wants to make sure that women's rights and women's opportunities are respected and protected in a new constitution and a new democratic order," said the official.

Mursi has repeatedly pledged to be a president for "all Egyptians" and said he would appoint a woman and a Christian as his deputies.

Clinton also sought assurances that its key Middle East ally will continue to press for regional security and uphold the peace treaty with Israel.

During the Cairo visit, Clinton will also seek assurances that its key Middle East ally will continue to press for regional security and uphold the peace treaty with Israel.

"More than three decades ago, Egypt and Israel signed a treaty that has allowed a generation to grow up without knowing war and on this foundation, we will work together to build a just comprehensive regional peace in the Middle East," Clinton said.

In 1979, Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel.