CAIRO: The White House has nominated to Congress former ambassador to Syria Margaret Scobey to replace Francis J. Ricciardone as the new US ambassador to Egypt in May.
The appointment comes at a critical point in bilateral relations. Despite being staunch allies, the two countries have seen a cooling in their relationship recently due to US criticism of the pace of political reform and Egypt’s patchy human rights record.
Things reached a head when the US Congress froze $100 million in aid to Egypt over these issues as well as the guarding of the Egypt-Gaza border.
The local press reported that Ricciardone was being removed because of American “dissatisfaction with his policies in Egypt.
Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that the US administration had sought to terminate Ricciardione’s tenure earlier than scheduled due to “its dissatisfaction with Ricciardone’s polices in Egypt, and mainly owing to the occasional conflict between his statements and the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s that are critical of Egypt.
Additionally, “his policies in Egypt largely relied on winning the favor of Egyptians both on the official and popular levels, the newspaper continued.
However, US officials opted to wait until his three-year term ended, the newspaper added.
Nihal Rizk, from the press office of the US Embassy in Cairo, refuted the claims made in Al-Masry Al-Youm, saying that they were entirely untrue.
She told Daily News Egypt that the current ambassador’s term will end in May and “Margaret Scobey’s name has been put forward, but this must be confirmed by Congress. So there will be a new ambassador in May, whoever he or she is.
Human Rights groups have taken Ricciardone to task in the past over positive statements he has made about the Egyptian administration.
Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Hossam Bahgat previously told Daily News Egypt that the incumbent ambassador “consistently heaps praise on the Egyptian government to the extent that he sounds more like an Egyptian government official than an American one.
This has damaged US credibility.
If her appointment is confirmed by congress, Scobey will be the first female US ambassador to Egypt. She previously served as the ambassador to Syria from 2003 to 2005 and followed this by a stint as a political advisor at the US embassy in Baghdad. Last year she was appointed as a senior advisor to the Secretary of State.
Scobey is considered an expert on the Middle East and speaks Arabic. In an interview with the magazine of her alma mater the University of Tennessee in 2004, she said the Middle East is “is a multicultural, multi-religious region with great diversity in social and political traditions.
“It is not one giant gas station, she added, “The region’s petroleum reserves remain the largest in the world, and the US will continue to depend on them. But most Middle Eastern countries have little or no oil. They have huge, growing populations and have not, for a variety of reasons, kept up with the social and technological changes of the last half-century.