Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak made his first trip to Washington in over five years after strained relationship with former U.S. President George W. Bush
President Mubarak was in the U.S. for the first time in five years, last month. Ahead of a summit with U.S President Barack Obama, who is credited by Egyptian officials for reviving the “strategic alliance between Egypt and the U.S.”, the President made it clear that he wants Obama’s support on Middle East peace and non-interference on the succession of rule and democracy.
On the other hand, Obama is trying to restore Egypt’s President Mubarak as the U.S. ace-in-the-hole in its decades-long effort to forge an elusive peace among Israel and the Arabs.
After a serious falling out over Bush’s administration pressure on human rights and democracy in Egypt, Mubarak was back in the U.S. capital for the first time in more than five years to meet with Obama last month. The relationship is far from healed, despite Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton having eased back on those touchy issues and Egypt showing greater willingness to help with the peace effort.
Mubarak had been a regular visitor to Washington during the Clinton administration. Then he stayed away to protest the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Bush’s intensified pressure to open the Egyptian political system and moderate its human rights policies.
In an exclusive interview accorded to TV correspondent Charlie Rose, President Mubarak said he never discussed the issue of succession with his son Gamal Mubarak. And in another exclusive interview given to the daily Al-Ahram in Washington, Mubarak said that Middle East peace is a pressing priority for Cairo and Washington alike.
“You would like for your son Gamal to come after you,” Rose, of the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service, put it flatly to Mubarak, according to a verbatim translated transcript released by Charlie Rose on the Internet. Mubarak was not short on a flat reply himself. “[The issue] was never raised between my son and myself.” He added, “It is not on my mind to have my son inherit me. The choice and election of the president is open to the population in its entirety. It is the decision of the population to elect who would represent the people. It is not for me to decide. It is the decision of the people to elect the person who they trust. Who would that person be? Well, we have a long time.” In reference to the next presidential election scheduled for 2011, he added, “It’s… we still have two years to go.”
In the ping-pong with Rose, Mubarak declined to directly rule out the chances for Gamal to become the next president of Egypt. “Do you think he is ready to be president?” asked Rose. “I will ask him. Or you can ask him. Don’t ask me,” Mubarak replied abruptly.
The President expressed confidence in a smooth transition of power. Egypt, he said, never suffered major problems with previous transitions and next time round should not be any different.
Mubarak insisted that bilateral Egyptian-American relations must be conducted to serve the best interests of both sides. As such, he said, issues related to the U.S. Aid to Egypt and the exchange of views on matters related to reform must be conducted within a formula that reflects the interests of both Cairo and Washington.
The future of U.S. economic aid to Egypt will be decided during scheduled meetings between officials who will examine ways to channel the bulk of aid towards the development of education and small and medium size business. As for the issue of democratization, Mubarak said, “matters related to democracy, reform and human rights are strictly national affairs and we accept no pressure or foreign interference on these matters, be it from the U.S. or anyone else.”
Mubarak particularly praised the shift in the U.S. stance on the issue of settlements, “Previous governments would confine themselves to qualifying settlements as a stumbling block to peace but this administration is demanding Israel freeze the settlements, including [those supposed to absorb] natural growth.”
On the issue of early steps towards Arab normalization with Israel, Mubarak was explicit: past experience, i.e. the attempts made in the wake of the Madrid Peace Conference, show that it is not plausible for Arabs to pursue normalization with Israel in the absence of “tangible progress in the peace process”.
By Ahmed Morsy