U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday she was "not offended" by protesters in Egypt who pelted her motorcade with tomatoes, calling the demonstrations a sign of greater freedom and anxiety, and mainly regretting what she saw as wasted food.
Asked about the assault on Sunday in Alexandria, where protesters threw tomatoes, one of them hitting an Egyptian official in the face, Clinton attributed the outburst to nervousness about the changes taking place in Egypt.
"The sooner that there can be a government that takes responsibility, whose actions can be judged and held accountable, then people will be able to draw decisions because words don't mean as much as actions and therefore I was not offended," Clinton said in Jerusalem hours after arriving from Egypt.
"I was relieved that nobody was hurt and I felt bad that good tomatoes were wasted but other than that, it was not particularly bothersome," Clinton said.
She also saw the protest as "a sign of that freer environment that Egypt now enjoys. It is also evidence that the Egyptian people are still concerned about the future."
A senior U.S. official said neither Clinton nor her vehicle, which was around the corner from the incident, were hit by the projectiles, which also included shoes and a water bottle. The objects were thrown as U.S. officials and reporters walked to the motorcade after her speech.
Protesters chanted "Monica, Monica," a reference to the extramarital affair conducted by Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, while in the White House. Others earlier chanted "leave, Clinton," an Egyptian security official said.
Demonstrations have become common in Egypt since former President Hosni Mubarak, a longtime U.S. ally, was brought down by mass street protests last year.
Egypt is gripped by political uncertainty as two major forces, the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, engage in a power struggle over the future of a country that remains without a permanent constitution, parliament or government.
In her speech at the newly re-opened U.S. Consulate in Alexandria, Clinton rejected suggestions that the United States, which had long supported Mubarak, was backing one faction or another in Egypt following his ouster.
"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," Clinton said.
"We are prepared to work with you as you chart your course, as you establish your democracy," she added. "We want to stand for principles, for values, not for people or for parties."