International Affairs — 05 March 2006

Condeleeza Rice last year cancelled a visit to Egypt due to the ill treatment of Ayman Nour; the Egyptian liberal activist. Ayman Nour had been detained by the Egyptian regime on what were classed as criminal charges (in reality political motivation was more of a reason than any form of criminality). The cancellation of the trip was seen as a principled stance on behalf of the US government. The US administration also threatened to cut economic aid to Egypt unless Ayman Nour was released from detention. Diplomatic relations between the two countries turned cold as the US turned up the heat on its favourite ally. A rumble in the jungle was brewing between the two states but this past sparring between the two friends was forgotten last week as Rice visited Egypt in her whirlwind diplomatic mission to the Middle East. The question therefore arises: is Egypt more open and tolerant now than it was last year? Has the autocratic state finally come to an end? Well, one can wish, dream and ponder. Recent events indicate a strengthening of autocracy rather than a withering of state power; this fact seems to have eluded Rice on this particular visit.

Following on from the appalling conduct of presidential and parliamentary elections last year; the Egyptian government jailed Ayman Nour for 5 years and cancelled Municipal elections for a period of two years. The dispute has continued between the state and the judiciary over judicial reform. Security brutality is evident once again as the Kifya(enough) movement took to the streets and the harassment of Muslim Brotherhood activists continues on a daily basis. Cleary the situation today in Egypt is much worse compared to last year when Rice cancelled her visit. However all of the above seems to have escaped the Secretary of State’s mind; a bout of amnesia I believe. So where is the stance of principle she showed last year?

The US is unlikely to make an exertive effort to push for democracy again in Egypt as the strength of the Islamic current in society grows and the grooming process of Gamal Mubarak continues at a fast pace to prepare him for inevitable succession from his father at the next presidential elections in 2011. The US objectives seem to be very clear in the context of Egypt; to prevent further gains by the Islamists and to ensure the smooth transfer of power. These twin goals of halting the growth of political Islam and stability are likely to shape US strategy in the coming years in the Middle East as political Islam gains further ascendancy in the Arab street and ageing dictators come to a natural end of their prolonged existence.

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