Mubarak meets Obama to patch up US-Egypt relationship
The Egyptian president hopes Obama will back away from Bush's push for reform, which caused a rift between the two nations.
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Though the Bush administration quickly backed off from its democracy push after the Muslim Brotherhood won 20 percent of parliament in November 2005 and Hamas won Palestinian elections in January 2006, the chill on US-Egypt relations remained. Mubarak stayed away.Skip to next paragraph
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A return to realpolitik?
Regardless of Egypt's willingness to accept a democracy lecture, it's unclear whether Obama is inclined to deliver one in the first place.
Obama's Middle East focus has been on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iran's nuclear ambitions. The result so far, activists and analysts here say, is a return to the days of old-fashioned realpolitik, with the US turning a blind eye to repressive local governments as long as they serve America's regional political agenda.
"Obama needs Egypt as a cornerstone of the peace process" and as part of a "strategic partnership" against Iran, says Mr. Anani. "He is going back to the old game – encouraging stability even if it means supporting authoritarian regimes."
Mubarak's government has run Egypt under a de facto state of martial law for all of his 28 years in power. Extralegal arrests and detentions are commonplace, and international human rights groups contend that torture in Egyptian police stations is systematic.
A prominent newspaper editor was jailed in 2007 for speculating in print that Mubarak was in poor health. The nation's most powerful opposition voice, the Muslim Brotherhood, is formally banned and subject to an ongoing crackdown that has accelerated in recent years. The Brotherhood is blocked by the government from forming a political party, and its members run for parliament as nominal independents.
Speculation over power transfer
Nevertheless, Obama chose Cairo for his landmark address to the Muslim world in June – a speech that contained only a mention of the need for democratic reform.
Essam al-Arian, a high-ranking Muslim Brotherhood member, says the Obama administration has repeatedly signaled it won't publicly pressure Egypt for domestic reform.
"The Egyptian file is now up to [Mubarak]. He can do whatever he wants internally," says Mr. Arian, who spent six months in jail in 2006. "It feels like we've gone backward a little bit."
The younger Mubarak, a former investment banker, has risen steadily to a leadership position within the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). Despite holding no official government position, he has previously traveled to the US with delegations of Egyptian cabinet ministers and met with US congressmen and administration officials.
Gamal is accompanying his father on this trip, even though there are higher-ranking members of the NDP who aren't going to Washington.
Both Mubaraks have frequently denied any sort of power-transfer plans, but that hasn't stopped the mounting speculation fueled by the elderly Mubarak's shaky health.
According to Arian, Mubarak's top priority in Washington will be "the power transfer."