WASHINGTON: President George W. Bush’s nominee for ambassador to Egypt, brushing aside allegations of interference, vowed on Wednesday to do all in her power to push the most populous Arab country to advance civil and political liberties and to free a top opposition leader.
Assured of prompt Senate approval by Sen. John F. Kerry, a Democrat who presided over a nomination hearing by the Foreign Relations Committee, Margaret Scobey pledged also to pressure the Egyptian government to release Ayman Nour from a five-year prison term. Nour, who ran against President Hosni Mubarak in 2005, was convicted on forgery charges his supporters say were trumped up.
Shaking off Kerry’s suggestion as to whether “we are prisoners of other needs, Scobey said there was no conflict in pushing Egypt to reform while looking for its support in promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Egypt, the first country to make peace with Israel in 1979, was rewarded with US foreign aid ever since that is topped only by outlays to Israel. This year’s package is for about $2 billion in military and economic assistance.
Scobey, an experienced diplomat who has held posts in Syria and Iraq, said withholding some US aid, which has been proposed as a pressure tactic, “will not help to move Egypt.
A diplomatic source told Daily News Egypt that Scobey’s comments about withholding US aid as a pressure tactic not being viable was “positive and “implies she understands the workings of Egyptian politics.
As for her stated intention about pushing for reform, “it doesn’t matter, the source said. “She said she will do everything in her power and good luck to her. As long as there is no talk of pressure, because nobody pressures Egypt, the source added.
The US had already suspended some $100 million in aid to the chagrin of the Egyptian government, which responded by insisting it refused any sort of interference in what it deemed were domestic affairs.
Scobey ticked off several US complaints, including the recent indictment against seven newspaper editors, Nour s continued incarceration and the prosecution of some 40 members of the Muslim Brotherhood in a military tribunal rather than civilian courts.
She said she and her staff would “give the greatest attention to getting our message out to the widest possible Egyptian audience, including a vibrant press.
Kerry, the only member of the Senate committee to attend the hearing, also questioned James F. Moriarty, the nominee for ambassador to Bangladesh, and Deborah K. Jones, assigned to the post in Kuwait. He praised all three nominees and wound up the hearing with the assurance that “we are going to try to get you out there as soon as possible.
Approval by the committee would send the nominations to the Senate floor where opposition is not foreseen.
The US administration has counted on Egypt to take the lead in promoting Middle East peace and to prevent smuggling of weapons to Gaza. But US insistence that the Mubarak government improve what the State Department called a poor record on human rights has stirred resentment the United States was interfering in Egypt s domestic affairs. -Additional reporting by Daily News Egypt’s Abdel-Rahman Hussein.