Egyptians split over Obama visit
Egyptians split over Obama visit
Friday, May 29,2009 17:23
By Ramadan Al Sherbini, Correspondent
Though not interested in politics, Saeed Abdul Aziz, a waiter at a restaurant in Giza, south of Cairo, is impressed by the news that US President Barack Obama is coming to Egypt on June 4.

The US President"s speech provides an important chance to enhance Americas engagement with the Arab and Muslim nations, the official Middle East News Agency quoted Egyptian Ambassador to Washington Sameh Shukri as saying. Egypt is a unique venue for this objective.

Many opponents to Mubarak"s ruling disagree, however. This visit offers unequivocal support to the Mubarak regime, said Ahmad Maher, the coordinator-general of the April 6 Movement, a protest group that soared to popularity in 2008 after spearheading a nationwide strike through the social networking website the Facebook.

"Though our movement is opposed to the visit, it will not stage anti-US protests," he told Gulf News.

"We will only organise a protest outside the Press Syndicate on the day of the visit to make an open letter to Obama stressing that the Egyptian people are not against the US, but oppose its policy in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Opposition views Obamas visit as endorsement of the Egyptian regime, whom it accuses of dragging feet on political reform.

Abdul Halim Qandil, the leader of the opposition group Kefaya (Enough), said his movement along with other political activists will stage a protest demanding Obama not to endorse the Egyptian regimes anti-democracy policy.

"We do not want Obama"s visit to be a form of reward to the Egyptian regime who serves the American interests in the region," Qandil told this newspaper. He argued that the visit reinforces the belief that the US gives precedence to stability in the Middle East over respect for human rights.

The Bush administration had initially raised hopes among pro-democracy activists in the Middle East when it pushed for political reform in the region, which has several of its key allies including Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The Bush administration was, however, seen dropping the pressure after anti-American feelings hit an all-time high in the Muslim world, say observers.

Announcing the news of Obama"s visit on May 9, the White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that Egypt in many ways represents the heart of the Arab world and the issues of democracy and human rights are things that are on the Presidents minds.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt"s banned-yet-strongest opposition force, played down the significance of the visit.

"We have not received any official invitation to attend meetings with Obama," said Mohammad Al Ketani, a senior official in the group.

"The [Egyptian] regime will act as a barrier between Obama and the Brotherhood especially as the regime feels apprehensive about the presence of the Brotherhood at meetings. In fact, we are not interested in attending a meeting with Obama because it would result in nothing," he added.

Since taking office last January, Obama has been keen to dispel negative feelings in the Muslim world left behind by his predecessor"s policies. In an address last April in Turkey, Obama said that his country was not at war with Islam.

"Arabs and Muslims want Obama to know that Islam is not a religion of terror, that we live in one world, and to drop double standards used by his predecessor," said Jihad Ouda, a professor of political science.

"He should also do more to ensure the creation of the Palestinian state, Ouda, a member of Mubarak"s ruling party," told Gulf News.

Glory: Giza gets ready

US President Barack Obama"s visit has prompted municipal officials in Giza to roll up their sleeves and clean up the streets, thus regaining the glory days of this city, said Abdul Aziz. Obama is expected to make his promised address to the Muslim world at Cairo University, Egypt"s most prestigious public university, located in Giza, also famed for the Pyramids.

Over the past few weeks, the university has been the scene of massive renovations to welcome Obama on his short trip during which he will meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The Egyptian leader, 81, cancelled a visit to Washington, which would have been his first to the US in five years, after the death of his grandson.

Egyptian officials and state-owned media have, meanwhile, been touting Obamas visit as recognition of Egypt as a regional heavyweight.

A few days before Obama"s visit, an Egyptian court overturned a two-year sentence against Saad Eddin Ebrahim, an Egyptian-US academic who is one of Mubarak"s most outspoken critics.

The court acquitted Ebrahim, now in self-exile in the US, of charges of harming Egypts image abroad in his writings. The move came almost four months after the Egyptian authorities released opposition leader Ayman Nour on health grounds from prison where he was serving five years on forgery charges.

The acquittal of Ebrahim is another positive signal to the Obama administration, or in plain terms, an earnest offered by the Egyptian regime to the US President on the occasion of his visit, wrote Wael Qandil in Al Shorouq newspaper.

The Source