Relations Sour as Egypt Accuses US of Meddling

Feb 9, 2011 6:00pm

ABC's Kirit Radia reports:

Once the cornerstone of America’s relations with the Arab world, relations between Washington and the government in Cairo have quickly deteriorated after the United States joined the chorus of demonstrators in Egypt’s streets demanding the ouster of the country’s long-time President Hosni Mubarak.

The latest volley came today from Egypt’s Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit, who said in an interview that the United States should stop meddling in Egypt’s internal affairs. 

"For Americans to come and say 'change is now,' but already we are changing! or, 'you start now,' we started last week. So better understand the Egyptian sensitivities and better encourage the Egyptians to move forward and to do what is required," he told PBS NewsHour.

The United States denied it was sticking its hands where they don’t belong.

“We're not trying to dictate anything,” State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters.

As we've said and emphasized many times, there will be an Egyptian solution, you know, and Egyptian actions within this orderly, you know, transition.  But it's important that, you know, what Egypt does do is — you know, is seen as credible in the eyes of the Egyptian people, and it's our view that what they've put forward so far does not meet that threshold,” he said.

Yesterday the White House issued a statement after Vice Preisdent Biden called new Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman to urge the government there to take specific and immediate steps to reform and pave the way for democratic elections.

Among those steps were restraning security forces that have harassed and arrested protesters and foreign journalists, as well as the immediate removal of the country’s emergency law which has been used to suppress political opposition for decades.

The State Department today said those specific suggests should be construed as meddling.

“We don't see that as interference. You know, as we evaluate this process and we evaluate what's going on, it is our view that, you know, the Egyptian government needs to, you know, show that it is serious about pursuing, you know, this transition,” Crowley said.

Foreign Minister Gheit said he was “amazed” that the U.S. had called for the emergency law to be repealed.

“Right now, as we speak, we have 17,000 prisoners loose in the streets out of jails that have been destroyed. How can you ask me to sort of disband that emergency law while I'm in difficulty? Give me time, allow me to have control to stabilize the nation, to stabilize the state and then we would look into the issue,” he said.

“With all due respect to the foreign minister, he should not be amazed, if that's the word that he used, at our call for rescinding the emergency law.  We have been calling for that for years, if not decades,” Crowley told reporters today in reply.

Gheit rejected the suggestion that President Mubarak should step down immediately, something the U.S. has cautioned against recently, but for a different reason.

"He believes that if he steps down or relinquishes his authority or nominates somebody else then first that is unconstitutional but second, he thinks that it would entail chaos and it would entail violence and it would entail also opportunities for those who would wish to act in a manner to threaten the state, the stability of the country and society,” the foreign minister said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has pointed out that if Mubarak were to step down immediately, it would trigger a constitutional requirement to hold elections within 60 days, something the State Department has said it does not believe would allow enough time for Egypt’s long-suppressed political opposition to organize.

A quote from Secretary Clinton during a 2009 interview perhaps best illustrates Mubarak’s fall from the good graces of American leaders.

“I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family,” she told Al-Arabiya during a trip to Egypt.

-Kirit Radia

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