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Sunday, April 03, 2005

Bye America, Hello Israel!

Which country receives more positive coverage nowadays in the Egyptian government owned media, Israel or the US? The answer is Israel, the archenemy of all Arabs and Muslims! Egyptian-Israeli relations today cannot get any better. The government signed an unprecedented trade agreement with Israel, President Mubarak is constantly on the phone with Prime Minister Sharon, and Egypt is cooperating wholeheartedly with all Israeli officials on the Gaza pullout issue. President Mubarak made a surprise trip to Syria in order to get the Syrians pressure their Palestinian militant guests to accept a ceasefire with Israel. In addition, the level of anti-Israel sentiment in the government media is surprisingly very low (Sharon was even interviewed by Al Ahram!).

On the other hand, relations between Cairo and Washington are at their lowest. They are not deteriorating, they already got deteriorated. Anti-Americanism in the official media reached the level of the period preceding the Iraq war. President Mubarak summoned the US ambassador David Welch (who replaced William Burns) and commented on the recent anti-Mubarak campaign in the US media. I was not surprised to hear that the president trip to the White House this month got postponed.

President Mubarak has reasons to be concerned. The New York Times and the Washington Post put aside all America's problems and concerns and reserved a series of their opening editorials to an obscure 40-something years old Egyptian member of parliament who heads a party that was newly established this year. I believe the deterioration of relations started to happen long before the Ayman Noor saga. Mubarak was definitely on his way to consolidate a fifth term using the usual shame referendums and he and his party officials brushed aside any possibility for amending the constitution to allow multiple candidates to run against him. In other words, the government wanted to maintain the status quo and didn’t realize back then that the US and Europe stopped playing using pre-911 rules.

Now, what is the way forward? I think enough pressure was leveled on the regime. I believe the boat was rocked hard enough to trigger some change here and I do hope that this change will not be huge enough to remove Mubarak from power because this is something I hate to see during this stage. I also hate it when some Western commentators treat Mubarak as if he is Saddam Hussein or Muammar Qaddafi. He might be disliked by many disgruntled Egyptians but he is definitely not despised. I still consider him to be a man of peace who has managed to establish friendly relations with the 4 corners of the earth.

I believe the US should move ahead in improving its relationship with Mubarak while in the same time telling him that he must allow liberal democratic voices to grow. Enough internal and external pressure was put on the system here. Egypt is an ancient old country, with too much pressure, it will break apart and we’ll all go down.

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