Saturday, August 22, 2009
It is summer and very hot in Washington, D.C., and the American newspapers often run headlines about people who have been unemployed and do not know how to get through these tough times. According to these headline stories, some of these people sell everything they have, including their cemetery plots in graveyards, just to survive.
In these deserted days, the city had a visit from a foreign leader, Egyptian president for life Hosni Mubarak this past week. Mubarak is known as one of the ruthless heads of state in modern history, who has been running his country for almost 30 years with the state of emergency laws, which is to say, he suspends any law he sees fit. His country has over 80 million people with about 20 percent unemployment, a low literacy rate and rising poverty that cuts the Egyptian people's livelihood.
This leader, with his relentless political skills, has been able to buy out or prevent any democratic movement so far, says Fahema Newton, an Egyptian-American journalist, who covers Washington for several Arabic news networks. Hosni Mubarak's hidden top agenda in Washington, according to many who follow Egyptian politics closely, was to transfer his power to his son, Gamal Mubarak, who is seen as the most likely successor to his dad. Hosni Mubarak had meetings with almost every single high official, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Adviser James Jones, and concluded these meetings on Tuesday with President Obama.
According to eye witnesses, during this visit, Gamal Mubarak hid behind the scenes and yet was more visible than his father both between the White House and the State Department. According to one source, father Mubarak could not make many of the meetings because of his deteriorating health, instead he left his son in charge of various delegations and meetings. American newspapers ran scores of commentaries on this Egyptian visit, contrary to many other foreign visits in recent times that went unnoticed. The sad part is that there was hardly any mention of Gamal Mubarak's presence in the Egyptian entourage, leaving aside his hand shake with and introduction to Obama by his father, according to press sources. Introducing Gamal to the president was not on the official agenda of the meetings, according to many. However, despite the busy schedule discussing regional issues, the most important agenda item for father Mubarak, was selling his son to Washington's political elite.
According to the news reports by National Public Radio, which was one of the very few news reports that merely mentioned Gamal's presence in the visit, without making further comments on what Gamal's presence means, the Egyptian officials played a big role in the timing of this visit to make it go under the radar, since the members of Congress are in recess in August as well as many reporters. And according to Ms. Newton, this tactic worked quite well. No member of the American press was present at the press conference that was organized in the city. According to sources, who witnessed the flawless public relations role of the Egyptian press secretary’s office throughout Mubaraks's visit, the press conference setting and the journalist selection scheme was so carefully prepared so as to prevent any “wrong” questions on the Egyptian government’s human rights abuses, democracy deficit or the police torture that has been widely terrorizing the Egyptian dissidents back home. Instead, carefully selected journalists, who were mostly from the Egyptian press corps, asked over and over again how the Egyptian role would play out in the Middle East peace process and help Obama's number one foreign policy agenda. For example, former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Michele Shune, was not invited to the press conference that was organized by the press secretary of Hosni Mubarak's office in Washington, D.C. I will discuss in more details why Obama seems to be in need of Hosni Mubarak's support for the Israeli-Palestine peace process so desperately in the next column, though I would like to talk a little more on why it is so important to dwell on Gamal's presence in this visit.
Gamal Mubarak's meeting with Obama was important, because even though he is not president as yet, he is already known for his ruthlessness and links to many scandals, amid his rising profile in Egyptian politics. The 46-year-old Gamal, a leading figure in Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party, has seen several of his associates, many of them former parliamentarians, charged with corruption and murder, the World Tribune reports, in November of 2008. The interesting part of the scandals is that, as the Egyptian analyst Deena Rashwan comments: "Scandals have played into the hands of the old guard in the ruling party. After all, Gamal Mubarak is widely seen as the one who has ushered businessmen into the top ranks of the party."
There are so many more reported scandals that are linked to Gamal that in order to write just a few of them would fill this column several times. I believe the reader gets the idea: There is another Hosni Mubarak in the making, and Obama seems to have given the green light for this transition.
The question is: why did Obama have to host this dictator, and, moreover, meet with the next dictator in the line, while his predecessor kept him away and tried to use some pressure on this tyrant. After all, didn't Obama earn much praise and wasn’t he hailed as an honest man in Cairo while he spoke with tough love rhetoric to the Muslim world? Obama had said: "... I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose."
The Egyptian people have been deprived of these human rights for 30 years by father Mubarak, and now there seems to be another Mubarak who will continue to go on, with a possible Obama blessing. I will try to answer in my next column some of the reasons why Obama hosted the Egyptian leader and needs his support so desperately. The reader should judge whether it was worth it for Obama to risk all the good will he has able to build so far.