Obama might pressure Egypt regime, says paper

Top officials of the US President, Barack Obama have been discussing new ways to put pressure on the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak including the appointment of a new ambassador committed to political change, according to an editorial published in the US daily, The Washington Post on Saturday.

On Tuesday, experts from the bi-partisan Washington-based Egypt Working Group met with senior officials at the White House National Security Council (NSC) to discuss political reform in Egypt as well as the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.

“The meeting is significant and might indicate that the administration could be thinking about changing its policy on issues of democracy and human rights in Egypt,” Andrew Albertson of the Project on Middle East Democracy told Al-Masry Al-Youm on Tuesday.

“Fortunately there are signs that the White House is at last waking up to the problems in Egypt,” the Washington Post said.

According to the influential paper, the meeting discussed the possibilities that Obama would deliver a strong statement if the elections were marred with fraud and rigging or would even send a special envoy to Cairo to convey the US administration’s concern about the electoral process.   

“A new US ambassador committed to political change, rather than apologizing for the regime, would help,” declared the Post, indicating that this was one of the proposals discussed in the first such high profile meeting since Obama assumed office in 2009.

Earlier, Albertson did not rule out the possibility that the meeting could be part of the administration’s plan to contain Republican pressure, following the party's sweeping performance in Tuesday's congressional midterm elections.

Republicans won more than 60 seats in the House of Representatives and six seats in the Senate. Democrats now hold only 51 senatorial positions, substantially less than the 60 seat majority required to pass legislation.

Republicans have voiced concerns over Obama’s strategy for resorting to traditional US diplomacy that favors stability over political reform in the Middle East. 

The Post also said that in April the Egyptian government ignored appeals from the US and violated its own public promises by renewing the 30-year-old emergency law.  

“This slide by Egypt toward the police-state methods usually associated with Syria or Sudan is a problem for the United States as well as for Egyptians. Mr. Mubarak is 82 years old and in poor health; by rejecting political liberalization and choosing deeper repression, he is paving the way for even worse developments once he dies and the struggle to succeed him begins. Mr. Mubarak's successors will need to acquire political legitimacy; if they cannot do so through democracy they probably will resort to nationalism and anti-Americanism,” the Post said.

Tuesday’s meeting was attended by top NSC officials including the Senior Director for the Central Region, Dennis Ross, Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights Samantha Power, Senior Director for Global Engagement, Pradeep Ramamurthy, Senior Director for the Near East and North Africa, Dan Shapiro, and Senior Director for Development and Democracy, Gayle Smith.

"Today national security staff briefed the members of the working group on Egypt on the administration’s ongoing efforts to promote respect for human rights and a vibrant civil society, open political competition, and credible and transparent elections in Egypt, including a comprehensive set of actions that support these goals in Egypt," NSC Spokesman Mike Hammer told the Washington-based publication POLITICO on Tuesday.  

Egyptian human rights groups have recently criticized the Obama Administration for encouraging stability at the expense of democratic reforms in Egypt, often citing a decision by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide funds only for officially registered NGOs, a condition that adversely affects organizations more critical of the regime.   

Political analysts say that Washington has abolished its policy of supporting democracy in the Middle East since the second term of former president George W. Bush following the strong performance of Islamist groups in both Egyptian and Palestinian parliamentary elections.

Some experts also cite Washington's need for a powerful Egyptian role in mediation in the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks as another factor that has led the US to reduce pressure on Egypt.

Others believe the current impasse in peace talks may prompt the US to change its strategy in the future.

"Any change in US policy towards Egypt may be partially prompted by the stagnation of the peace process," Albertson said.

The US Senate is currently debating a resolution to push for more democratic reforms in Egypt. The resolution calls for the abolition of emergency law which has been in place for thirty years.

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