Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Power Of Rhetoric: Mubarak’s Wake Up Call

Gamal Mubarak, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s son made a covert trip to the White House on May 12th. The intent of the secretive trip was not initially understood and the talks with President Bush, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice seemed to be quite strategic given the US’ criticisms of recent Egyptian actions against protestors in the streets of Cairo.

Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif described Gamal’s visit as an attempt to sooth relationships between the two countries in light of recent events in Cairo. Nazif’s statement certainly makes sense however the ulterior motive of the visit was for Gamal to establish personal relationships with key members of the current administration and to further ‘groom’ himself for Egyptian presidency.

However, Hosni Mubarak had a change of heart.

On Saturday May 20th, Mubarak opened the World Economic Forum held in Sharm El Sheikh with a shocking tough speech informing the US that its relationship with Egypt has started to slowly wither and deteriorate. The foundations which Anwar Sadat had laid and which Mubarak had inherited have been shaken. Such a speech is unlike Mubarak who has been appeasing and acquiescing to the US ever since peace with Israel had been made and an agreement to provide aid was signed.

What happened?

The situation requires a careful and in-depth analysis.

Here are several scenarios:

1) Hosni Mubarak was not pleased with what his son reported back after his meeting with the White House a week before the inauguration of the forum. On a speculative basis, Gamal probably reported that 1) the US was not happy with the way in which the government was handling its protesters and 2) that the government was not trying hard enough to establish a democratic pro-Western style liberal system. Thus, it seems that it was Gamal’s meeting which triggered a taste of bitterness in Mubarak senior’s mouth. Moreover, the US might have not liked the idea of allowing nepotism to further cloud Egypt’s attempts at openness and ‘free’ party elections in its truest sense. In other words, they might have not liked the idea that Gamal was being groomed for presidency and that the NDP would do anything in their power to ensure his succession. In light of Mubarak’s speech which implied that the US was running a foreign policy that promoted double standards, this makes sense.

On the one hand, the US remains ambivalent on their stance towards the MB. As discussed before, their rise to power might prove problematic and a case which requires tacit tactics and careful diplomacy. However, on the other hand the US (in blatant irony) is promoting free party elections which might end up leading to the MB’s rise to power – a blow to the status quo and a new (yet uncertain) phase of US-Egyptian relationships.

Mubarak has become utterly flabbergasted at the US’ pressure to promote democracy alongside their ranting against Islamist groups for harboring terrorism and promoting violence (i.e. Hamas). This situation is incredibly oxymoronic and hypocritical since the US would be inclined to do the same if the MB rises to power i.e. boycott and criticize them (the MB recently provided funds to Hamas claiming that they share the same brotherhood and objectives).

If the above is truly genuine, then Egypt has certainly entered a unique phase with the US. Mubarak has finally decided to speak up and refrain from being a puppeteer and an acquiescent.

The conclusions from this scenario are optimistic and pseudo-idealistic. Given Mubarak’s track record with the US, there might be another facet to this story.

2) The recent protests, arrests and violence in the streets of Cairo have revealed to Mubarak that regardless of the US’ influence on Egyptian politics, there still remains a cap on what they 1) seek to do and 2) what they really can do. As argued in my previous posts, the US has gone soft on Egypt over the protests. They certainly condemned the state police’s methods as brutal and asked for a toleration of freedom of speech. Also, Congress discussed a potential reallocation of its aid to Egypt and a much more viable return to their investment. However, the US did not really intervene per se.

In essence, Mubarak realized that the draconian Emergency Law which has recently been extended to another two years will continue to prevail and so will his privileged position with the US and the administration’s desire to keep him. He has kept Egypt out of war with Israel and has maintained diplomatic ties with the former adversary and has even gone far to establish a trade agreement (as my recent posts show, the US has been supporting the Israeli Lobby immensely).

In other words, his rant is merely talk to appease the Arabs as well as send a message to the US. His quid pro quo response is as rhetorical as the US’ response to the protests. Mubarak realized that the US will provide him with some leeway, after all, Egypt is one of the most powerful Arab countries and their administration needs to show sympathy towards issues affecting neighboring countries.

However one interprets the speech, it is quite bold and assertive. There is no doubt that Mubarak meant for a world that “fosters multilateralism, abides by international legitimacy and steers away from unilateral actions” (criticizing the US’ unilateral invasion in to Iraq) and that “democratic reforms in the Middle East should "emanate from within the region” (instead of being forced). There is also no doubt that he meant to elaborate on “a double standard in the U.S. nuclear policy, under which Washington maintains a resolute silence about the nuclear arsenal Israel is believed to possess while it conducts a campaign to curb.” These statements are genuine but their timing and rationale need to be carefully assessed.


Blogger pelyas said...

I am an absolutely staunch supporter of close US-Egyptian relations. But this speech was needed to show the world that Egypt can exercise influence and that Mubarak has a spine.

7:05 PM  
Anonymous jodetoad said...

What are we supposed to do to him, give him a spanking? How brave is it to say something anti-American? It happens 47,000,000 times a day. I get tired of people thinking someone saying something anti-American is brave. For pity's sake, words are cheap.

There are rumblings in Congress and elsewhere about ceasing the "aid". My guess is he's irritated about that, and besides grandstanding for people who think he's brave to spout off, he's pointing out that rather than continuing to be a tremendous ally (/sarcasm off) he could be an irritant. So what. Yeah, he's a real hero.

1:13 AM  
Blogger The Egyptian Observer said...

@jodetoad. There is nothing 'we' are supposed to do. As I said in the article, rhetorical criticism is in essence 'rhetorical.' You are right, words are cheap however it is a start.

Mubarak has always been acquiesing to the US. He appears as a puppet infront of his people as well as around other Arab countries. Thus, it came as a surprise to many people including myself for him to deeply criticize the US. Mubarak's words cannot be compared to those of someone like Ahmadinejad. The US is an ally of Egypt whereas the US is clearly not an ally of Iran.

This is the distinction here. I suppose Mubarak is angry that the aid package might be reduced however (unlike what his administration thinks) this will be beneficial to Egypt (refer to my other posts discussing the arguments laid out in my thesis).

He is certainly not a hero and the Egyptian people can reinforce that as well. However, let's hope that his rhetoric can hold more credibility than its mere face value.

8:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An article that's very relevant:


7:55 PM  
Blogger The Egyptian Observer said...

@anonymous. This article literally mirrors our discussion. Thank you for pointing it out.

11:53 AM  

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