CAIRO (IPS)–While senior government officials in Cairo are urging the U.S. Administration to act with caution, some of Egypt’s eminent political analysts are blasting what they perceive as Washington’s bias towards Israel and saber-rattling at Iraq.
“Egypt is making every effort to persuade the U.S. not to take unilateral decisions which could raise tension and endanger everybody’s interests,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said at a press conference.
Mr. Maher has repeatedly urged the U.S. to condemn Israeli incursions into Palestinian territories and to avoid a military confrontation with Iraq. He wants Washington to apply pressure on Israel to withdraw its stranglehold of the Palestinian Authority as a step towards reactivating the peace process.
He has also called for the U.S. to work within the framework of the UN Security Council and take every possible measure to avert a war with Iraq.
“The main complaint of the Egyptian government is that the U.S. doesn’t listen to its side of the issues,” says Emad Gad, a political analyst at the independent Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
He cites as an example the new Middle East Partnership Initiative outlined Dec. 12 by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. The program, which earmarks $29 million to boost democratic reforms in Arab countries, is a public relations campaign to improve Arab public opinion of the U.S.
The Egyptian press blasted the initiative for failing to redress perceived injustices.
“American policymakers have obviously failed to recognize that the real problem in the Middle East is Israel’s aggressive acts against the Palestinian people,” said Galal Dowidar, a columnist for government-run Al-Akhbar newspaper. “The target of Arab and Muslim anti-American sentiment is not the American people; it is their government’s unjust and biased policies.”
According to Mr. Gad, Arab countries welcome assistance with their reforms, but Washington must first reform its own policies.
“The Egyptian government is trying to reach an understanding with the U.S. because it cannot continue its reform program without Washington’s,” he says. “But we must deal with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process before we can speak about reform.”
Mr. Gad says the Bush Administration must listen to Arabs if it hopes to improve relations. “We want partnership, not unilateral decisions,” he says.
With a population of 70 million, Egypt is the most populous country in the Arab world. Washington has repeatedly called upon its leadership role, whether to bring Arabs and Israelis to the bargaining table or to rally Arab support for the U.S.-led coalition in the 1991 Gulf War.
“The U.S. needs Egypt to help moderate radical Arab countries,” says Hassan Nafaa, head of the Political Sciences Department at Cairo University. “If Egypt is destabilized or changes direction, the Arab world will follow.”
Egypt receives nearly $2 billion in annual economic and military assistance from Washington as a reward for signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1978. Since then, it has assumed a leading role in the Arab-Israeli peace process.
“Egypt is the only real Arab power until now to sign a peace treaty with Israel,” says Mr. Nafaa. “Nothing can be done in the peace process without Egypt.”
Despite historic strong ties, relations between Washington and Egypt have turned sour over the past year.
“With this current administration in the U.S., and especially if (U.S. President George) Bush is determined to strike Iraq and continue to neglect the Palestinian issue, this relationship is under stress,” says Mr. Nafaa, adding that Egypt feels the pulse of the Arab world and Washington should pay closer attention to its message.
Washington’s plan to attack Iraq and install a new government is the latest example of what the local press has termed “American cowboy colonialism.” At an international anti-war conference held in Cairo in December, intellectuals and lawmakers denounced the plan, which they described as a pretext to occupy Iraq and secure its oil reserves.
“We view U.S. aggression on Iraq as part of a much broader U.S. hegemony that threatens the entire planet,” says Soheir Mursi, one of the event’s organizers.