With sweeping changes in the Mideast, West is sending mixed signals

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By Abdel-Rahman Hussein

CAIRO: With sweeping changes reverberating across the Middle East, and the regimes of Egypt and Tunisia having already fallen, Western diplomats are in a scramble to react to a situation they didn’t foresee.

This was apparent in the US administration’s reaction to the Jan. 25 revolution in Egypt. When it began — and was considered to still be an uprising – the US administration attempted to strike a balance between the protesters and their long-time ally, ousted president Hosni Mubarak, and his regime.

Later the US seemed to be in favor of reform carried out by Mubarak’s handpicked Vice President Omar Suleiman, supporting his attempts at dialogue with the protesters as a way forward. Again they were one step behind, as the protesters for the most part refused any dialogue with a representative of the current regime.

It was only after Mubarak had stepped down did the US manage to merely echo the aspirations of the Egyptian people. Britain was the same, with PM David Cameron urging reform to take place immediately. Yet no Western country was willing to call for Mubarak to step down.

Now that Mubarak is gone, Western officials seem to be taking the route of democracy promotion in Egypt, in a language less tempered than before when he was still in power.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said ahead of her visit to Cairo Tuesday that she will “urge the current leadership to make progress with constitutional change paving the way for free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections.

“The EU stands ready to support the democratic transition and I intend to discuss in Cairo how the EU can best assist Egypt,” she added.

US Undersecretary of State William Burns said while in Cairo Monday, “We will continue to encourage concrete steps to build confidence to sustain the momentum of the transition … through careful preparations of the elections to the further release of detainees to the lifting of emergency law.”

While Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told Reuters, “It’s historic. We are probably witnessing a wave of new democracies being born.
We want democracy. We want reforms. We don’t want violence. We condemn it.”

Western officials are coming to Cairo to see the direction recent events are taking, according to foreign relations expert at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies Emad Gad. Especially in light of last Friday’s demonstration in Tahrir Sqaure, which appeared to have an Islamist bent.

“They want to know where things are going,” he told Daily News Egypt, “They are also worried about the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood and what happened in Tahrir last Friday. They know the army is civilian in nature. So they are fact-finding and they want to know if there are free elections, whether that would mean a victory for the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Similar current events in Libya seem to be following a similar tack, yet this time Western leaders have been quicker to denounce the violence and have called for it to stop immediately. Again no one has stated that Muammar Qaddafi should step down from his 42-year reign. However, there are some mutterings that Qaddafi’s reactions to the protests could amount to crimes against humanity.


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