Kefaya’s Need of America Leaves Bitter Taste
CAIRO - Washington’s drive for democratic change in Egypt has left the country’s reformist opposition torn between a deep-rooted anti-Americanism and the potential windfall of US support.
"Do you think Washington will issue a statement to condemn this?" snapped an angry protestor during a recent protest in Cairo by the Kefaya ("Enough" in Arabic) movement that was violently dispersed by security forces.
The US State Department published the statement.
But the very same Egyptians opposed to President Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic regime who accuse America of abandoning them also slam the "interference and imperialist policies" of Washington.
The protestor, 29-year-old tour operator Nagwa Farahat, tried to explain the unease between Egypt’s pro-reform camp and Washington’s pro-reform advocates.
"There may be an ambiguity but it’s logical. We don’t want the Americans here, that’s for sure. But when you need money, you turn to someone who has lots of it. America has lots of power," she said.
A coalition of NGOs intent on monitoring the September 7 presidential poll raised eyebrows when it accepted 264,000 dollars of funding from USAID to train observers.
In a country where praise for the September 11 terror attacks is not uncommon and the US administration is associated with Israel, people often only admit to links with America after trotting out a stream of apologies.
Negad al-Borai of the Group for Democratic Development, part of the coalition, explained that his group accepted foreign funding only after exhausting the possibility of obtaining funds locally.
"USAID helps everything from business organizations to the Future Generation Fund to women’s centers, but when it goes to centers monitoring torture or the condition of prisoners, suddenly it becomes a problem," he remarked.
The fund is run by Mubarak’s son, Gamal.
Ayman Nur, seen by many as Hosni Mubarak’s top rival in next week’s poll and certainly the most outspoken, is cagey when it comes to the role Washington should play in Egypt.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cancelled a March trip to Egypt in protest at his detention over what he says were trumped up charges, fueling speculation on the level of support he is receiving from Washington.
But he goes to great lengths to distance himself from the United States.
"I don’t want the US support, I bet on the Egyptian people. If the United States respects me and supports my cause, I am very pleased, but only within the framework of dialogue," Nur said in a recent interview with AFP.
In a keynote address in Cairo in June, Rice said: "For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East -- and we achieved neither."
"Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people," she said.
While Washington has never hinted it wanted its long-time ally Mubarak to step down rather than run for re-election at 77, the United States reiterated Monday its call for international monitors to be allowed in polling stations.
"This is something that we encourage around the world, and we urge the Egyptian government to agree to let in election observers," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.
Hani Enan, a senior Kefaya leader, argued that the ambivalence of the relations between Egypt’s opposition and Washington was mostly the doing of the United States.
"America has been consolidating dictatorships in the region for years, now they are discovering that the environment they created breeds discontent and terrorism," he said.
"All we want them to do is to tie the hands of the dictator they support so that we won’t get harmed.
"But we don’t even favour too rapid a change. Egypt is not ready and nor are we. The only ones who are prepared to take over the reins of power are the Islamists," Enan said.