Recall Ricciardone
Saturday, May 5,2007 00:00
By The Sun

The American ambassador in Egypt, Francis Ricciardone, has given an interview to Egyptian television, a transcript of which has now been posted on the Web site of the American embassy at Cairo. It was brought to our attention yesterday by a post by Joshua Muravchik on the Web site of Commentary magazine. The interview amounts to a stunning whitewash of the record of the Mubarak government in Egypt. "Here in Egypt as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech," Ambassador Ricciardone claims.

Mr. Ricciardone might want to have a glance at the State Department’s own annual human rights report. The latest, released March 6, 2007, says that the Egyptian government’s "respect for human rights remained poor, and serious abuses continued in many areas. These included limitations on the right of citizens to change their government; a state of emergency, in place almost continuously since 1967; … restrictions on civil liberties — freedoms of speech and press, including internet freedom; assembly and association; some restrictions on religious freedom."

The State Department report points out that Egyptian law "stipulates fines or imprisonment for criticism of the president," and that the "government owned stock in the three largest daily newspapers, which generally followed the government line, and the president appointed their top editors." It further reports that the "Ministry of Information owned and operated all ground-based domestic television and radio stations."

The State Department goes on to report, "In numerous incidents, authorities showed little tolerance for demonstrations by opposition groups and activists protesting government policies. For example, on January 20, police dispersed a group of Ghad Party supporters after they held up ‘Free Ayman Nour’ signs at the entrance to Cairo International Stadium. In February in the Red Sea port city of Safaga, security forces used tear gas to disperse a demonstration by family members of victims of the February 3 sinking of the Al-Salaam Ferry."

Says the report: "In July 2005, approximately 200 demonstrators gathered in Cairo to protest President Mubarak’s intention to seek a fifth term. The protesters were attacked by uniformed security forces and men in plain clothes armed with truncheons. Thirty persons were arrested and reportedly detained in unofficial detention centers." Ask those demonstrators attacked with truncheons whether, as Mr. Ricciardone absurdly claims, "in Egypt as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech."

In the same television interview, Mr. Ricciardone was asked how he could watch the execution of Saddam Hussein. He replied, "Personally, I’m against execution in principle. My personal reaction is that it is abominable." It was a strange reply, since the ambassador hadn’t been asked for his personal views of the death penalty.

The interviewer also asked whether the ambassador had heard the Egyptian song "I hate Israel," whose lyric include "I love Yasser Arafat" and "I hate Ehud Barak." The ambassador’s response, according to the transcript on the embassy’s Web site, was "Yes. I also watched his latest movie on a web site." He went on to say, according to the transcript, "It is sort of interesting. I enjoyed it."


Now one of the things that newspapermen learn about covering stories in the Arab press is that it’s not uncommon for interviews with, say, American officials, to turn out in print differently than the person being interviewed intended. But what are we to make of the fact that the remarks of this parlous plenipotentiary are posted on the American Embassy’s own site on the World Wide Web?

Regular readers of these columns may recall that, in a January 15, 2004, editorial "Ricciardone’s Return," we warned against the diplomat’s involvement in postwar Iraq. The same day the Sun ran a front-page news article headlined "Clinton Crony Brought Back To Watch Iraq." It began, "Over the objections of the Bush administration’s hawks, Secretary of State Powell is bringing back President Clinton’s point man to the old Iraqi opposition to oversee the transfer of power to an Iraqi government in Baghdad from coalition forces."

Secretary of State Rice is in Egypt this week for a conference on the future of Iraq. It would be a fine opportunity for her to recall Mr. Ricciardone and reassign him somewhere he can do less damage to American interests by distorting reality and freelancing in contradiction to administration policy.