• Women
  • October 21, 2007
  • 5 minutes read

Black Cloud

Black Cloud

For years, Egyptians have suffered from air pollution in the autumn; they call it “the black cloud,” as its dark smoke covers the Egyptian capital and some other cities. People find it very difficult to breathe, people with chest and heart ailments are in danger of dying, and they find no release in breathing the polluted air that is choking them. Egyptians at all levels have been unable to explain the phenomenon and government bodies have taken step after step to confront and control the situation, and try and prevent it, in vain. The black cloud appears every autumn and is only dispersed by the winter winds, when it is broken up and people in Egypt begin to breathe normally, certain that the cloud will reappear on schedule next year.

Although the visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Cairo this week took place in the morning, when Egyptians usually don”t feel the black cloud that covers their sky with the approach of night, they fell a “choking” of another kind, impairing their ability to breathe politically.

In the language of Egyptians, they call a passing crisis “a summer cloud.” However, US-Egyptian relations have been darkened, for a number of years, by a black cloud that has nothing to do with the seasons of the year, even if linked to important political issues, whether regarding Egyptian domestic matters or those of interest to America. Egyptians, officially and at the popular level, are upset by the way in which the White House, Congress, legal organizations and hard-line Jewish figures are dealing with Egyptian domestic conditions; they reject US responses to measures taken by the Egyptian government or the judiciary for various reasons, regarding the rights of opponents of the regime. Some Egyptian politicians do not hide their feelings of anger at American attempts to “neutralize” Egypt or ignore the country upon discussing the region”s issues if the Americans have failed to receive support from the Egyptian government on such items. In return, US officials, including President Bush himself, set about to express their rejection of domestic conditions in Egypt, including instances such as the arrest and trial of some political activists, as in the cases of Dr. Ayman Nour at present, and, formerly, Saadeddine Ibrahim.

The conviction even prevails among Egyptians that US reform plans have evaporated and that the pressure the White House can exercise to achieve political and economic reforms in Middle East countries, headed by Egypt, are no longer operative and are unlikely to take place in the future. However, Cairo believes that the Americans are using some domestic Egyptian issues to blackmail the country”s foreign policies and direct them on a path that satisfies Washington, as is the case with issues such as Palestine, Iraq, Sudan and Iran. Although Rice”s visit to the region, which included Egypt, focused on the fall conference on peace and trying to reach a joint Israeli-Palestinian document that doesn”t face Arab opposition, in addition to the request from Arab parties, including Egypt, to alleviate its criticism of the conference and try to make it a success, a “black cloud” continues to darken the sky of US-Egyptian relations and it will be hard to hide it.

Adding to this is the official Egyptian sentiment about the conference and criticisms by officials, with President Hosni Mubarak at their head; the president was surprised at the lack of a clear agenda for such a meeting. If the Americans were busy preparing for the conference, the secretary of state avoided getting into a debate that might anger the Egyptians. She didn”t raise the issue of Ayman Nour or the demands of the opposition, but this did not prevent her from expressing her rejection of joint Egyptian-Sudanese efforts to arrange a dialogue in Cairo between Fatah and Hamas, to treat the deteriorating situation in Gaza and achieve a reconciliation among Palestinians.

Thus, another black cloud arrived to cover the skies of the visit and what took place during it. The Americans, who have rejected and continue to reject any dialogue with Hamas or on the movement”s future role, have equated their position on Islamist Palestinians with Cairo”s position on Egyptian Islamists. They believed that Cairo, which rejects any dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood, is asking the Americans to accept Hamas as a partner in rule over Palestine. Meanwhile, Egypt sees this link as further American blackmail and an absence of a realistic vision of conditions on the ground in Palestine. Thus, Rice visited Egypt and left, but it appears that the black cloud remains.