Kassem given award, Diehl on Egyptian press

It's with great pride that I learned that my friend and former boss Hisham Kassem, until a few months ago the publisher of al-Masri al-Youm, was given a well-earned National Endowment for Democracy 2007 Democracy Award. I also knew that he and the other recipients (from Burma, Thailand and Venezuela) got to spend 55 minutes with President Bush. Today Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl, who has led the newspaper's campaign against the Egyptian regime, raises the issue of press freedom in Egypt and debriefed Kassem about his meeting with W:

The Egyptian publisher Hisham Kassem was in Washington last week to pick up the National Endowment for Democracy's prestigious annual Democracy Award, in recognition of his role in jump-starting a free Egyptian press. Along with two other honorees, he spent nearly an hour in the Oval Office with President Bush, who spoke with feeling about his "freedom agenda" and his intention to pursue it after he leaves office.

But Kassem could not help but feel a little depressed. While he was being honored, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was directing a frontal assault against the island of liberty Kassem helped to create in Cairo -- independent newspapers that have subjected Mubarak's rotting autocracy to serious scrutiny for the first time. And hardly anyone in Washington seemed to care.

"Egypt was the least of his priorities," Kassem said of Bush, who spoke more enthusiastically during their meeting about pushing for democracy in Burma, Venezuela and Russia. "You can feel Egypt is on the back burner right now. Everyone is in despair about the situation."
Having spent some time with Egypt-watchers in and out of the administration in Washington last May, I came to the same conclusion.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.