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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

U.S. won't hassle Mubarak over suppression of Brotherhood

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration has decided to maintain support of the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak amid its crackdown on the opposition.

Officials said the State Department has directed the U.S. ambassador and other diplomats not to criticize Egypt. They said the Mubarak regime was besieged by the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood, deemed as extremely anti-American.
Officials said the administration has decided to refrain from criticizing Mubarak during his effort to revise the constitution. They said the State Department and White House have sought to avoid angering the 78-year-old Mubarak amid the U.S. effort to stabilize Iraq.

"We have found that criticism of Mubarak has always been counterproductive," an official said. "We don't want to be in the middle of what should be a domestic political event in Egypt."

As a result, the administration has been largely supportive of the Mubarak regime. Officials said that despite the crackdown on the opposition, Mubarak has been implementing democratic reforms in Egypt, which receives $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid.

"When you are able to at some point look back, you will see a general trend towards greater political reform, greater political openness, a more direct correlation between the will and needs and hopes of the Egyptian people and those whom they elect," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said March 20.

McCormack cited Egypt's multi-party presidential and parliamentary elections as well as the recent appointment of 31 female judges as positive developments. He said the 2005 elections have "changed [the] face of the Egyptian parliament."

"Despite its longstanding rhetorical support for democratic reform, Washington's response to date has been tepid at best," a report by the Washington Institute said.

Still, the State Department has criticized Egypt for the imprisonment of opposition leaders, including former presidential candidate Ayman Nour, as well as the conviction of blogger Abdul Karim Suleiman. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also expressed concern over the opposition boycott of Egypt's referendum on the revised constitution, scheduled for March 26.

"The hope was that this would be a process that gave voice to all Egyptians," Ms. Rice said on March 23 on her way to Cairo. "I think there's some danger that that hope is not going to be met. Right now I am concerned that it won't."

The Mubarak regime quickly responded and accused the United States of interfering in Egypt's domestic affairs. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu Al Gheit accused Ms. Rice of prejudging Cairo's reform process.

"Even if Egypt and the United States have a friendly, strategic relationship, Egypt can't accept interference in its affairs from any of its friends," Abu Al Gheit said.

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