The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Answering AA with Issandr & Charles's notes

This statement in the NYT is actually the take in the Egyptian Arabic press (with the exception of al-Misri al-Youm, likely al-Arabi). I think the Atn-Gen made this same point that Nor's case is not a "political case" at a press conference last Wed (it was in the Thursday papers, al-Wafd and Ahram at least). They did this with Saad too, but things were different and he has a constituency in Amrika from which pressure could be placed on the political establishment. Remember in Summer 02, Bush implicitly linked aid to Egypt with political reform (which was viewed and understood at the time to be Saad's case).

As for the Weekly coverage, I agree with Issandr's take, but thought the coverage pushed or was eager to show that clear divisions are present and party implosion is a distinct possibility (even if it the divisions are understood regime-inspired). It seemed like they exaggerated this.

I found the Makram Ebeid interview to be a bit confusing. I suppose there were sections that were sympathetic but overall I thought it framed her (and al-Ghad) as clearly subservient to the President, forced to adopt the NDP agenda and timetable which she refused to answer, and although technically in charge, Ebied seemed uncertain of where this is going. She definitely is neither the force nor has the political acumen that Nor has. Given this is the case, the party could just be left to hang in the balance to avoid and complicate any criticism as the regime hides behind this it is not a "political" case argument.

The interesting thing for me is that three-years ago the US could intervene on behalf of Saad and get the situation more or less sorted. There is no indication that this will work again. The US is simply distrusted too much here and its influence can automatically be employed as interference. Soft-power options just keep diminishing.
This diminishing soft-power will continue to be a problem (and therefore unlikely helpful in Nor's case):

Something else to consider is in the Khaled Dawoud article, "Sticks and carrots," that discusses Bush's SOTU address. There is a nice bit where some discourse analysis is done to portray the state of US-Egyptian relations. A bit much for those not into details and as far as accuracy, I don't know. But definitely different than anything I have seen.

The key passage:

Dan Bartlett, counsellor to the president, denied that Bush's reference to Egypt and Saudi Arabia in his speech indicated a change in policy, and asserted that both countries continued to be "close allies and countries we've worked with very cooperatively in the past."

Bartlett told Al-Ahram Weekly that the US president has been "very consistent" in calling, both publicly and privately, for "a constructive dialogue about the issue of human rights and liberty and democracy with the leaders in the Middle East."

He recalled how the US president made nearly the same appeal to the Egyptian government two years ago in a speech he delivered at National Endowment for Democracy.

In fact, there was a difference of one word only in the reference Bush made in his State of the Union speech to Egypt compared to his previous statement. Two years ago, Bush said that Egypt "should show the way towards democracy in the Middle East", while in his address last week, the US president used a relatively milder language, saying Egypt "can now show the way towards democracy in the Middle East".

In diplomatic language, one State Department official told the Weekly, "saying Egypt can 'now' instead of 'should' show the way towards democracy was more refined and reflected the friendly relations between the two countries."

At a time when Egypt is heavily involved in reviving peace talks between Israel and Palestinians, and with the US giving priority to restoring stability in Iraq, most US observers did not believe Washington would jeopardise its relations with Cairo or Riyadh. But, according to the same State Department official, "respect of human rights and democracy will become a common theme in discussions between the two countries."

Pretty glaring contradiction....perhaps some independent consultative policy bodies in the US will be able to suggest a different course of action....