Nominee Backs Human Rights in Egypt
Nominee Backs Human Rights in Egypt
Thursday, February 14,2008 17:26
By Barry Schweid

President Bush"s nominee for ambassador to Egypt, brushing aside allegations of interference, vowed on Wednesday to do all in her power to push the most populous Arab country to advance civil and political liberties and to free a top opposition leader.

Assured of prompt Senate approval by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who presided over a nomination hearing by the Foreign Relations Committee, Margaret Scobey pledged to pressure the Egyptian government to release Ayman Nour from a five-year prison term. Nour, who ran against President Hosni Mubarak in 2005, was convicted on forgery charges his supporters say were trumped up.

Shaking off Kerry as to whether "we are prisoners of other needs," Scobey said there was no conflict in pushing Egypt to reform while looking for its support in promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Egypt, the first country to make peace with Israel, in 1979, has been rewarded with U.S. foreign aid ever since that is topped only by outlays to Israel. This year"s package is for about $2 billion in military and economic assistance.

Scobey, an experienced diplomat who has held posts in Syria and Iraq, said withholding some U.S. aid, which has been proposed as a pressure tactic, "will not help to move Egypt."

The administration has counted on Egypt to take the lead in promoting Middle East peace and to prevent smuggling of weapons to Gaza. But U.S. insistence that the Mubarak government improve what the State Department called a poor record on human rights has stirred resentment that the United States was interfering in Egypt"s domestic affairs.

Scobey ticked off several U.S. complaints, including the recent indictment against seven newspaper editors, Nour"s incarceration and the prosecution of some 40 members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood in a military tribunal rather than civilian courts.

She said she and her staff would "give the greatest attention to getting our messsage out to the widest possible Egyptian audiences" including a vibrant press.

Kerry, the only member of the Senate committee to attend the hearing, also questioned James F. Moriarty, the nominee for ambassador to Bangladesh, and Deborah K. Jones, assigned to the post in Kuwait. He praised all three nominees and wound up the hearing with the assurance that "we are going to try to get you out there as soon as possible."

"We look forward to having you confirmed," Kerry said.

Approval by the committee would send the nominations to the Senate floor, where opposition is not foreseen.

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