The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Salah on the permanent black cloud in US-Egypt relations

Al Hayat's Muhammad Salah uses Cairo's seasonal "black cloud" of pollution as a metaphor for Egypt-US relations. There are some interesting ideas there about mutual blackmail, notably over Hamas -- which Cairo has visibly warmed up to recently -- and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The conviction even prevails among Egyptians that US reform plans have evaporated and that the pressure the White House can exercise to achieve political and economic reforms in Middle East countries, headed by Egypt, are no longer operative and are unlikely to take place in the future. However, Cairo believes that the Americans are using some domestic Egyptian issues to blackmail the country's foreign policies and direct them on a path that satisfies Washington, as is the case with issues such as Palestine, Iraq, Sudan and Iran. Although Rice's visit to the region, which included Egypt, focused on the fall conference on peace and trying to reach a joint Israeli-Palestinian document that doesn't face Arab opposition, in addition to the request from Arab parties, including Egypt, to alleviate its criticism of the conference and try to make it a success, a "black cloud" continues to darken the sky of US-Egyptian relations and it will be hard to hide it.

Adding to this is the official Egyptian sentiment about the conference and criticisms by officials, with President Hosni Mubarak at their head; the president was surprised at the lack of a clear agenda for such a meeting. If the Americans were busy preparing for the conference, the secretary of state avoided getting into a debate that might anger the Egyptians. She didn't raise the issue of Ayman Nour or the demands of the opposition, but this did not prevent her from expressing her rejection of joint Egyptian-Sudanese efforts to arrange a dialogue in Cairo between Fatah and Hamas, to treat the deteriorating situation in Gaza and achieve a reconciliation among Palestinians.

Thus, another black cloud arrived to cover the skies of the visit and what took place during it. The Americans, who have rejected and continue to reject any dialogue with Hamas or on the movement's future role, have equated their position on Islamist Palestinians with Cairo's position on Egyptian Islamists. They believed that Cairo, which rejects any dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood, is asking the Americans to accept Hamas as a partner in rule over Palestine. Meanwhile, Egypt sees this link as further American blackmail and an absence of a realistic vision of conditions on the ground in Palestine. Thus, Rice visited Egypt and left, but it appears that the black cloud remains.
Like an old married couple, (unevenly) co-dependent and set in their ways, two countries plod ahead in policies based on the denial of reality.