CAIRO: McCain or Obama? Everyone’s wondering and on Saturday, about 300 people, mostly Egyptian, packed a conference room at the Semiramsis InterContinental Hotel in downtown Cairo for a conference on the upcoming elections.
Sponsored by the American University in Cairo’s Center for American Studies and Research, the event featured a series of lectures by American journalists and scholars.
In the morning session, American political scientist William Vocke of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs broke down the electoral process, explaining the basic dynamics of the American electorate and the campaign’s history to an Egyptian audience.
Jerry Leach, director of the AUC Center for American Studies, outlined the most important issues, which he listed primarily as the US economy and to a lesser extent, the foreign policy issues of Iraq and Afghanistan, to the surprise of some in the audience who wondered why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not been a big issue.
The afternoon session took a more intentionally partisan turn as journalist Lawrence Pintak and Middle Eastern scholar Raymond Stock made the case for why they will vote for Obama and McCain, respectively.
Pintak, who acknowledged that, at one point, he might have considered voting for McCain, felt that restoring US standing in the world is paramount and in his view, Obama would be best able to do this.
Pintak also felt that McCain showed bad judgment by his selection of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who he considers unqualified as his running mate.
Responding to a question from the audience about the effect the election will have on US-Egypt relations, Pintak put it bluntly: “There will be no fundamental change whoever wins. There are a number of very serious foreign policy issues that the next administration will have to address (such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq). Egypt will not even make the top 10 list of priorities.
Stock, a scholar of Arabic who is currently working on a biography of Naguib Mahfouz, has serious doubts about Obama’s character judgment. Through his experience in the anti-war movement in the 1960s, Stock was in contact with some of the people Obama has been criticized for associating with, such as William Ayers.
In Stock’s view, their violent nature is clear, and Obama’s willingness to be associated with them, albeit before he became a national figure, raises questions about his judgment.
Nabil Fahmy, Egypt’s ambassador to the United States from 1999 to 2008, spoke about the elections implications on the Middle East and AUC Provost Lisa Anderson closed the conference with a talk on presidential leadership.