The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

More WaPo on Egypt

Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl has another scorching piece on Egypt and the Nour affair. He offers these little tidbits about the forthcoming trip by Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit and National Security head Omar Suleiman to Washington:

Some officials tell me that the Egyptians will get a cool, if not cold, reception in Washington and will be told that the jailing of Nour and his deputy, Moussa Mustafa, is unacceptable. Bush, one source said, is "furious" about the arrests. A U.S. diplomatic letter has been drafted, but not yet dispatched, to other members of the Group of Eight industrial nations; it describes Mubarak's political crackdown in harsh terms and suggests that G-8 participation in an early March meeting in Egypt with the Arab League should be reconsidered.

One official I spoke to pointed out that Condoleezza Rice is due to pay her first visit as secretary of state to the Arab Middle East for the Arab League meeting. If Nour is not freed, the official predicted, Rice may cancel the trip: "She is not going to sit there like a potted plant while the Egyptians do this." But Rice hasn't addressed the issue, and there is no consensus inside the administration on such a tough response. Predictably, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo is urging caution; it argues that an overly aggressive U.S. reaction would play into the hands of Egyptian "hard-liners." Such limp logic, of course, is exactly what the chief hard-liner -- Mubarak -- is counting on.

Whatever comes of the Nour affair, the State Department has launched a committee to review policy toward Egypt. That will give democracy advocates at State and the White House a platform for arguing that relations with Cairo should be fundamentally shifted in the coming year. They can count on support in Congress, where key Republicans, such as Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have grown increasingly impatient with Mubarak's refusal to liberalize.

It's only now that the State Dept. reviews its Egypt policy? Also, why the snide "predictably" about the reaction of the embassy in Cairo?

Incidentally, it's worth noting that David Welch, the highly unpopular High Commissioner ambassador to Egypt, has just been appointed to replace William Burns as Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs.