Thursday, February 10, 2011

Middle East: US pressures Egypt

Al Jazeera

article printed in its entirety

US escalates pressure on Egypt

Egyptian foreign minister says Washington seemed to be trying to impose its will on Cairo.

The embattled government of Egypt had not met even a minimum threshold of reforms demanded by the people of the country, the White House said on Wednesday, warning that massive protests will likely continue until real reforms are instituted.

In a sharp escalation of rhetoric with one of its most important allies in the Middle East, Robert Gibbs, president Barack Obama's spokesman, suggested that some Egyptian leaders thought they could wait out the protesters by offering up some concessions and assuming "life will return to normal."

"I think that's largely been answered by a greater number of people, representing a greater cross-section of Egyptian society, who have come out seeking their grievances to be addressed," Gibbs told reporters.

"And I think those are not likely to dissipate until the government takes some genuine steps."

Pro-democracy protests in Egypt have entered their third week.

The comments came as the Obama administration sought to keep pressure on Egypt's leaders to change the way the country is governed and set up a path to free and fair elections in September, when president Hosni Mubarak's term ends.

Gibbs suggested that Mubarak's administration appeared out of touch in the face of swelling pro-democracy protests demanding genuine reforms.

"I think it is clear that the Egyptian government is going to have to take some real, concrete steps in order to meet the threshold that the people of Egypt, that they represent, require from their government," he said.

Critics accuse Washington of double standard for it remained a key, reliable ally of Egypt for decades, before changing rhetoric in the past few weeks as protests grew stronger.

Earlier, Joe Biden, US vice-president set out four steps Washington wanted Egypt to take, telling it to stop harassing protesters and to immediately repeal the emergency law allowing detention without charge.

Biden also told Egypt to broaden participation in a national dialogue, to include more opposition members and to treat the opposition as a partner in devising a road map to end Egypt's political crisis.

Egypt fires back

Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Egyptian foreign minister, has rejected US calls for the immediate repeal of its emergency law and said Washington seemed to be trying to impose its will on Cairo.

Asked if he viewed the advice provided by Joe Biden, the US vice-president, as helpful, Gheit told the PBS NewsHour programme "not at all,” according to an interview transcript provided by the US TV broadcaster on Wednesday.

Asked why he found this unhelpful, Gheit told PBS: "Because when you speak about prompt, immediate, now - as if you are imposing on a great country like Egypt, a great friend that has always maintained the best of relationship with the United States, you are imposing your will on him."

"When I read it this morning I was really amazed because right now, as we speak, we have 17,000 prisoners loose in the streets out of jails that have been destroyed. How can you ask me to sort of disband that emergency law while I'm in difficulty?" he said.

Israel 'anxious'

With anxiety over Egypt dominating the foreign policy of Israel and the US, Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister on Wednesday met with Obama's key national security aides.

Now that the Mubarak regime is under the threat of collapse, Israel fears that it's 1979 peace treaty with Egypt could be in jeopardy.

In a statement, the White House said Barak, in his meetings with top Obama officials, discussed the "latest developments in Egypt, the need to move forward on Middle East peace".

But the statement gave no further details.

Along with the US, Egypt was a key interlocutor between Israel and the Palestinians in the last round of the US-sponsored peace process, which stalled after Israel resumed building illegal settlements on Palestinian lands.

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