• August 11, 2006
  • 61 minutes read

Bush Administration concerned with the issue of Mubarak absence

Bush Administration concerned with the issue of Mubarak absence

Dr Amr Hamzawy : Bush Administration is concerned with the issue of Mubarak absence.

Washington does not care whether or not Gamal Mubarak will be the coming president. Its primary concern is for American interests only.

Egyptian political parties are only discussion clubs without any grassroots and their mobilization capabilities are very limited.


Amr Hamzawy is a permanent guest on most of Arab and international mass media; his studies and researches are highly respected and admired by many people. However, you will never find him a gust on government formal TV. You will realize the reason after reading his interview. Dr Amr Hamzawy is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for international peace in Washington. This endowment is an academic and research centre named after its founder since 1910. Dr Hamzawy has his own views on the issues of democracy and inheritance of power in Egypt; such views are inconsistent with the interest of those in power, so they do their best to conceal them from people.

The primary concern of Dr Hamzawy is to study the democratic program in the Middle East, especially the Arab countries.

He is more concerned with the consecutive developments in his homeland, Egypt. Hamzawy is 38 years old and a father to two children. In 1988, he graduated from faculty of Economics and Political Sciences, Cairo. He received his MA in political sciences from Netherlands, and his PhD from Germany.


The independent newspaper al-Dostour met Hamzawy during his brief visit to Cairo to attend an academic conference, and conducted the following interview.


– How does Bush administration view the current situation in Egypt?


There is a difference between the US administration and research institutions. There is a form of politicization with a clear cut agenda whether on the part of Israeli lobby or leftist and rightist research institutions. There are some academic institutions which stick to academic activity. The Carnegie institution is characterized by being independent and a private endowment-based organization; this secures its independence. Generally, we research the possibilities of democratic change all over the world and especially in Egypt. The scene in Egypt pivots on three things, the most notable is that despite the political motion in Egypt during 2004 and 2005, there has been no considerable change in the image of political regime during 2006. The security and military institutions of Egyptian regime are still tenacious due to the state practices of suppression and repression against political opposition. In addition, the image of opposition has no remarkable change; they are still weak liberal and leftist parties or groups with little grassroots support. Such parties became discussion clubs more than political parties. Moreover, their recruitment and mobilization capabilities are very limited. There is also the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) group with its solid grassroots support but it still adopts a circumvention-based approach and gives priority to its special agenda over the national agenda despite the fact that its discourse has taken a lot of democratic terms.


.How do you see the effect of this image on the future of Egypt?


I think there will be, within a short term of two to four years, a bet on the regime continuity, because a shock or even a crisis is expected at any moment due to the absence of President Mubarak. The regime will encounter a crisis in taking a decisive stance on the issue of power succession, whether it will be a scenario of inheritance or another one. This will result in a state of shaking. Anyway, the Egyptian regime is tenacious and we do not expect any near change.


Is Bush administration concerned with the issue of power inheritance and the coming president?

Actually the American administration is highly concerned with this issue, but we have to take into consideration the differences and various inclinations within US administration.

Of course the issue of power succession in Egypt is a matter of concern to US and they wonder what will happen. This American concern about how a post-Mubarak Egypt may look like resulted in two things:

First: maintaining strong relationship with main powers in the Egyptian regime including the security side, in addition to maintaining strong relations with new guard of National Democratic Party (NDP).

Second: there is an American attempt to maintain communication channels with some political offices in the regime such as the foreign and defense ministries.

The lack of a clear scenario for post-Mubarak Egypt makes US administration put some of its eggs in the basket of regime. I see that Americans are not ready at the present moment to exert a real pressure on the Egyptian regime for democracy; this is not because they do not want a democratic Egypt, but rather because of their fear and concern about what may happen in the future.


But all indications show that the issue of political reform in Egypt has no longer been among the US priorities!

I agree with you that the US interest in this issue has been reduced during the last six months. In fact, Washington sees the regime policies as a regression and backsliding in a commitment toward democratic reforms. This regression is represented in putting municipal elections off by two years, repressing the opposition and tyrannical tackling the issue of judges.

The Americans have no doubt that the current Egyptian regime is not committed to any promise of political reform, however the US administration sees that this regime is cooperative at the regional level and assumes an important role in securing American interests whether in Iraq, Gulf region or in Palestine.

Moreover, the performance of  Egyptian regime and current elite in terms of economic reform gains US support because the privatization system and liberalization of Egyptian economics are consistent with the US point of view . Actually the main reason behind the US messages concerning the continuation of positive and friendly relationship with Egypt lies in the lack of any alternative. The opposed alternative in Egypt is vague and even the clear cut alternative, namely MB, troubles US.

Furthermore, there is a fear of instability that Egypt may experience in case of enfeebling the current regime especially when it comes to the issue of power succession.


So, do you think that Gamal Mubarak’s last visit to Washington was an attempt to present himself as a successor to his father?

I think Americans are divided on their stance concerning Gamal Mubarak for many reasons. Actually there is some form of conflict concerning Gamal Mubarak and his last visit to Washington. To my knowledge, there was a view adopting the necessity of continuing dialogue with Gamal Mubarak and his group because they represent an influential power within the Egyptian regime and within the elite that has no alternative. Those upholding such a view managed to resolve this conflict. Consequently, the majority of American strategic cards come in favor of such elite in which Gamal Mubarak and his group is an influential power. In fact, the Egyptian regime has a lot of influential powers including Amr Soliman, the chief of intelligence in addition to others.

In contrast with this view, there was another trend within the American administration refusing this visit holding that it will send a negative message to Egyptian people and democratic opposition. There were some suggestions in support of receiving Gamal Mubark but in a way that is less than the case with president and vice president. As for the officials of US department of State, they expressed their reservation about this visit. Finally, Gamal Mubarak was received by the US National Security Council and the office of vice president.


This conflict is always present during the discussion of any matter specific to The Middle East. In fact, the primary concern of Americans is to secure their interests only, I am absolutely certain that the argument that took place within the American administration was not about the identity of Mubarak’s successor, but rather about the way by which they can maintain the stability of Egyptian political regime in light of the absence of any democratic alternative and the weakness of democratic opposition.


Do you mean that America is concerned with its interests only regardless of the political reform?


Americans are primarily concerned with maintaining strategic relationship with Egypt in a way that secures US interests along with a minimum degree of relationship constants. This is a basic pivot of the US role in Middle East. Therefore, The Americans pay attention to Gamal Mubarak because of his power and influence within the regime not because of his identity.


In your opinion what will be the American stance during the first day following President Mubarak absence?

I think American administration will stick to the constitutional legitimacy which is an exclusive right to the ruling regime. Any successor suggested by the Egyptian ruling elite will be accepted by the American administration. There are no speculations whether this successor will be pro or anti-American interests, because the Egyptian regime as a whole is a US-friendly regime and so does the Egyptian government.


So do you think that US is not concerned whether or not the power succession scenario ensures Gamal Mubarak coming into power?


The primary concern of US at this time will be to ensure stability in Egypt especially during this very complex regional situation.


Who will be the main beneficiary of American aid to Egypt?

A great part of infrastructure has been constructed using the US financial aid to Egypt, in spite of the regime’s boasts that it constructed this infrastructure or at least financed it. Similarly, the military aids contributed to building the army and developing its armament. Here lies the danger because there will be no alternatives in case of USAID prevention. This is a very strategic and unprecedented weapon because you agree to put all of your eggs in one basket regardless of the subsequent risk. I think this was the bet of late president, Anwar -El-Sadat when he put the Egyptian strategic relationship in the American basket.



Has the US administration managed to use its aid as a weapon of pressure on the Egyptian regime?

The US administration used the weapon of aid at very selective moments as in case of Dr Sa`d Eddeen Ibrahim and Dr Ayman Nour. Generally speaking, the American administration is not ready to make the aid conditional on political reform in spite of the voices inside research centers or in press that call at least for stipulating basic reform necessities or setting a schedule for certain changes that come in line with the Egyptian society demands. Finally, the US Congress approved the American administration stance.


 Do you think that Bush reconsidered his policies concerning Arab issues?

I think so, and this is not limited to the Egyptian issue but also applies to the Libyan issue. The American administration decided suddenly to resume its relationship with Libya regardless of the Libyan gross violations of human rights and general freedoms.

Now the question arises as to whether the US administration has changed its mind concerning supporting democracy in the Arab region.

Actually, the Arab opposition and intellectual elites always doubted the seriousness of American administration stance on democracy in Arab world, still there was some kind of conviction that US is serious in this respect.

However, the question of Bush reconsideration of his policies arrests attention.

Actually, by the end of 2005, US administration reconsidered its priorities for many reasons and consequently it attached a little importance to the issue of democracy in Arab world and a great importance to the matter of protecting direct interests of America and Israel.

Consequently, there is a change in the American stance. In fact, the US stance after September 11 was based on two things:

-Changing the unfriendly regimes as in case of Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Iran

– Exerting continuous pressure on friendly regimes for democratic change; the first candidate country was Egypt, then Saudi Arabia.


But this stance has been totally changed, has it?



Surely yes! The American administration decided to adopt a different approach as for the US unfriendly regimes. This approach is represented in changing the regional and international attitude, a concept that has no thing to do with the internal situation in such countries. This is clearly shown in the Libyan regime which became an allied regime after it had been among the unfriendly ones despite being known for his dictatorship since 1970s up to now.


As for the friendly regimes, the US stance turned from a real and serious pressure that poses a threat to such regimes to become a soft pressure using a diplomatic language similar to “Please do not do such and such, and please do such and such” rather than using a threatening language.

Moreover, The US became frightened after the coming of Hamas to power; it became in constant fear of the rise of Islamists to power in Arab world.



Does the Israeli lobby have any role in increasing such fears?


Surely yes! The Israeli government along with Israeli lobby in US played a great complementary role in increasing American fears. They went further and warned US against supporting democracy in the Arab region claiming that this will pose a threat to American and Israeli interests in the region because Arab populations have a strategic majority inclined toward radical movements and trends, in addition to inclinations towards nationalism and Arabism. Consequently, the Israeli lobby and even the American conservative right-wing are pressing to reconsider the policy of supporting democratic change in the Arab world and adopt new approach. This new approach is represented in encouraging democratic elections and democratic political atmosphere simultaneously with reshaping the Arab civil communities in a way that results in a strategic majority of liberals.

But this is still a complementary role, and I think the American administration did not decide from the very beginning on its stance concerning the price of democratic change in the Arab World. Moreover, it did not answer questions on its readiness to accept and cooperate with Islamist governments that come into power due to fair parliamentary elections.


Do you think US is concerned with opening secret or public channels of communication with Muslim Brotherhood?


It is known that America has multi-level communications with MB during 1988s and mid-1990s but those communications were not major. Actually there were a lot of American communications with Islamists in the 1980s including the Islamic resistance group (Hamas) with which the US embassy conducted a lot of communication. America conducted these communications in order to discover the viewpoints of such groups concerning the internal, regional and international issues. It is necessary for US as a great power to open channels of communication with such groups.

In the second half of 1990s, US stopped any communications with MB, but there were some indirect communications to identify the MB stances and orientation as an influential political group within the Egyptian society. But I do not think that US believes that MB will be the effective factor in settling the issue of power succession because US bets on the ruling elite. However, America is keen to comprehend MB stances, and I can confirm that there are no direct communications between them, rather, they are indirect communication to convey certain messages.

Do you mean that MB can’t positively or negatively put an end to inheritance of power scenario? Or, won’t they have any role in this respect?

I think that this scenario will be due to internal conditions in Egypt, as well as external powers, especially the United States. Though we have political trends opposing this scenario, they don’t have the necessary power to restrict it, because only the regime has the power, not the democratic opposition or MB. This scenario will be determined by the dynamism and momentousness.

Why does George Bush no longer visit Cairo, while Mubarak also refrains from visiting Washington?

The Egyptian American relationship deteriorated after September 11, because America began to discuss the issues of democracy and reform. America deduced that Islamic radicalism is due to the absence of democracy in the Arab world, and moreover if the Arab regimes don’t embark on democratic reform, America will certainly be in danger.

So that America called for putting an end to the Islamic radicalism peril. The deterioration of relations synchronized with the American organized pressure on Cairo. Consequently, reform scenario was tackled in the meetings between Mubarak and Bush for the first time in 2002. America changed its notions concerning the Arab Ally in exchange for Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Later, America was duly convinced that it is wrong to depend on Israel concerning the Middle East affairs.

The American invasion of Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime restored the American relation with both Saudi Arabia and Egypt- during the 80s- as allies. There was a margin for exerting pressure in the field of reform; this margin decreased due to regional conditions that Bush’s administration term is about to be over and the risk of the Islamic trends growth.

How will the Americans benefit from Egypt after changing the regime?

In 2005, the American administration wanted to change the regime in Egypt, that’s why they cared for Ayman Nour, considering him a liberal democratic substitute who has grassroots, but they found out that the substitute will be fragile under Nour’s regime and dangerous under MB facing the Egyptian deeply rooted regime, which dominates the political life and is capable of dealing with the others inside Egypt or in the region such as the Israeli Arab conflict, peace process in the Middle East, and the issues of Iraq and Iran.

Did the regime have certain packages with America?

The regime says that it is an ally of America and will stay the course, provided that the American administration doesn’t intervene in the interior affairs. The regime has certain powers used when dealing with America, i.e. national sovereignty; the external powers don’t have the right to intervene in the interior affairs, the regime’s role in the regional issues which it can escalate or decrease, and the danger of the substitutes on both Egypt and America.

Eventually, Mubarak’s view prevailed, in your opinion, how did that happen?

Washington believe that Mubarak’s regime is the only suitable and available one considering it the only power to manage the Egyptian political life, consequently the American administration said that reform in Egypt will take a long time, this was clear in Bush’s speech.

Whenever any authoritarian or undemocratic regime is subject to external pressure, it immediately accuse them of conspiracy against the country’s national benefits or lack of knowledge, Mubarak used this when saying that the Americans are ignorant of the Egyptian political life and its risks, and that he is managing it in coordination with them. The regime uses vagueness and panic which prevail in Washington in its benefit.

Why did the American administration manage to accomplish democratic reform in many countries, but failed in the Arab region?

When calling for democracy in the Arab region, America faces unprecedented challenges, which it didn’t face in any region in the world. When America supported democracy in Eastern Europe and Latin America, it faced two kinds of regimes; either non- friends (Socialist or Communist) which were substituted with liberal and friends, or leftist liberal regimes opposing some of the American benefits, but not threatening it- except for Hiogo Sanshez in Venezuela. There is harmony between maintaining benefits and what America’s facing in our region. America is subject to a different scenario; because it is facing either friend regimes to be substituted with democratic elites, which threaten America’s benefits regionally and externally, or non- friends to be substituted with democratic elites, which may threaten the benefits regionally and externally, If they are democratic inside their countries.