CAIRO: While the meeting between President Hosni Mubarak and American counterpart Barack Obama slated for Tuesday will focus on Middle East peace, Mubarak’s first visit to the US in five years has raised speculation on what it means for Egypt’s political future.
This is especially in light of the fact that he is being accompanied by his son Gamal, policies committee head of the National Democratic Party and believed by many to be the one to succeed his father as president of Egypt.
Coordinator of the Kefaya movement Abdel-Halim Qandeel told Daily News Egypt, “I think the signal is clear, because Gamal has previously visited the US and in light of the special relationship between the two countries there is a need to touch base and receive some sort of permission.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Finance Minister Youssef Boutros-Ghali also accompany Mubarak on his first US trip in five years. Conspicuous by his absence is intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, believed to be the other name in the hat for political succession.
Suleiman is the point man for negotiations with Hamas and Mubarak is scheduled to meet with both Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and National Security Advisor James L. Jones, who is also a special envoy for Middle East security.
“Any talk of the Egyptian internal situation will not be announced on the agenda, but there are suspicions because of Gamal’s presence in the Egyptian delegation, said Diaa Rashwan from Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
“More important than why Suleiman is not on this trip is the question of why Gamal is part of the delegation, he added.
A recently released think tank report indicated that the United States had decided to shelve concerns about Egypt’s internal situation in favor of joint interests in the region.
“After years of tension resulting from the last administration s focus on human rights and democratic development, the traditional US-Egyptian bilateral ‘bargain’ has been effectively restored, said the report published by the Washington Institute for Near East policy Wednesday.
“In exchange for cooperation on key mutual interests – the peace process and the Iranian threat – Washington appears to have shelved longstanding concerns over internal Egyptian governance, it continued.
There is also the matter of Egypt’s Coptic minority, with US Coptic groups intending to protest when Mubarak meets with Obama on Tuesday.
“The objective of our peaceful demonstration is to protest and expose to the world the unprovoked, continuous and escalating criminal acts against the defenseless and peaceful Copts in Egypt, their families, their homes, their property and the defaming of their Christian religion by the Islamic extremists, encouraged by the policy adopted by the Egyptian regime, a statement by the groups read.
Editor of the Coptic Al-Watani newspaper Yousef Sidhom told Daily News Egypt that the march would have very little effect on Mubarak’s visit or relations between the two countries.
“It will make no difference; the Copts abroad use whatever tools they possess to voice their discontent, but I think it will have no effect on Mubarak’s visit nor the situation of Copts in Egypt, he said.
Sidhom believes that the correct way forward in improving relations between the Coptic Diaspora and Egypt is to follow up on the meetings held by the National Council for Human Rights, when representatives of the US Coptic groups were invited to hold discussions in November 2007.
“We need to keep the dialogue going so at least in this manner no one will accuse the Coptic Diaspora of tarnishing Egypt’s image abroad, he said.