The Egyptian opposition eagerly awaits Obama’s visit

Egyptians have spent weeks preparing for the first visit of US President Barack Obama to the Egyptian capital on Thursday. Although Obama is set to meet with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, it is his long awaited speech to the Islamic world that is causing the most media buzz. Reactions in the press have been diverse, but voices in the opposition have been dominated by the official press’ support for Obama.
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Great expectations for US President Barack Obama's visit to Cairo on Thursday. ©AP

ALEXANDRIA, June 4, 2009 (MENASSAT) - On the eve of US President Barack Obama’s visit to Cairo from Riyadh, preparations for his visit in Egypt have been rigorous.

Obama is scheduled to give a speech aimed at redefining America’s relationship with the Muslim world, and despite the fact that Egypt is one of the United States’ staunchest allies in the region, Obama’s visit is being heavily scrutinized here.

As expected, Cairo has been turned into a dual nationality military barracks. In addition to the thousands of Egyptian security agents dedicated to the visit, 3000 FBI and CIA officers have arrived in Egypt with their weapons, armored vehicles, helicopters, and explosive detection devices.

The independent paper Al-Bayan reported that the Americans demanded a list of names for all Egyptian security agents assigned to protect Obama, adding that the Egyptian forces’ role would be restricted to “assisting” the American’s in their mission.

Not the most assuaging news item for elements of Egyptian society that accuse President Hosni Mubarak of being an American proxy.

The Muslim Brotherhood welcoming

The leading opposition movement in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood (Al-Ikhwān al-Muslimūn) has joined other anti-regime political parties in supporting a wide range of opinions on the Obama visit.

The Brotherhood officially welcomed an invitation to attend Obama’s speech this week.

Muslim Brotherhood deputy chairman, Dr. Mohammad Habib told local papers that 10 of the Brotherhood’s MPs received signed invitations from the head of Al-Azhar University, Sheikh Mohammad al-Sayyid Tantawi, and the head of Cairo University, Dr. Houssam Kamel.

The Brotherhood said they accepted the invitation because they were “members of the parliament,” and because all of the Egyptian political parties would also attend Obama’s visit.

But it was a surprise move by the Brotherhood, and it came on June 3, six days after the Brotherhood issued a ferocious statement widely carried in the Egyptian press (May 27) that stated they would postpone comments on the Obama visit until after his speech, and after the subsequent official Egyptian response to his visit.

“Enough” rejects

The umbrella opposition movement, “Enough” (Khalas), has rejected Obama’s visit as being counteractive to democratic reform.

Formed in the summer of 2004, Khalas has united under a staunchly anti-Mubarak banner: “No to extending Mubarak’s rule, and no to his son (Gamal Mubarak’s) succession.”

The organization’s coordinator, journalist Abdul Halim Qandil, rejected the official press’ take on Obama’s visit as an “exaggeration of Egyptian hospitality.”

He described the visit as “an industrial breathing potion to the Mubarak regime which is in crisis,” and said that the visit comes as a political reward for “the Egyptian regime’s primary concern over Israel’s security,” a reference to the Egyptian reinforcement of the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip particularly during the Israeli invasion of Gaza earlier in the year that killed 1,200 Palestinians.

“Egypt has received Israeli war criminals, declared war on the Palestinian resistance, and continued its barbaric suppression on Egyptians in the Sinai,” Qandil said.

During a June 3 press conference, Qandil told the Egyptian media that Khalas welcomed the statement made by opposition group “Egyptians for Change” that condemned Obama's visit as a missioon to "Support Israel and the Egyptian dictatorship.”

Other dissident voices

Egypt’s leading opposition figure Ayman Nour expressed his anger that Obama’s program didn’t include meeting with the Egyptian opposition and civil organizations.

A former member of the Egyptian parliament, Nour was famously jailed in 2005 for attempting illegally secure the formation of the opposition El-Ghad party, he was released in February on health grounds.

He has called on Obama to force the Egyptian authorities to reverse a two-year jail sentence of Egyptian human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim in August 2008 for “defaming Egypt.”

Ibrahim is currently in exile in the United States who advised the US President that he not begin his tour of the Islamic World in Cairo, instead suggesting Jakarta or Istanbul.

He added in an article published in the Wall Street Journal that Obama would be meeting Egyptian powerbrokers selected and invited by the Mubarak regime who do not represent the views of the Egyptian people.

Far from the political opposition, invitations were sent to a number of activist figures in Egypt, such as Dr. Boutros Boutros Ghali, former UN Secretary General and the General Secretary of the National Council for Human Rights, Hafedh Abu Saada, the General Secretary of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, Bahieddine Hassan, head of the Cairo Center for Human Rights Studies, and Motaz al-Foujairy, the executive manager of the Center.

The Center had sent an open letter to Obama urging him to “end support for the dictatorships in the Arab and Islamic world,”  establish a Palestinian State, and end the discriminatory practices against Arabs and Muslims in the US airports.

The internet an alternative to the squint of the official and satellite media

What is typical about the whole affair is that opposition voices have been held far from the official media record, with most of the satellite TV stations and newspapers ignoring the need for a balancing or dissident voice on the occassion.

The Internet has been the real battleground for pro and anti-Mubarak perspectives on the Obama visit.

Chiming in from the Egyptian blogosphere, young blogger Mostapha al-Najjar published on his blog “waves of change” his personal diatribe for the US president entitled “Welcome Obama… but..."

Al-Najjar welcomed Obama's visit but conditioned his welcome on two major demands:  that Obama work for a “fair solution” to the Palestinian dilemna, and the Obama administration end their support of dictatorial Arab regimes and that the US uncover their “inhuman” practices towards opposition voices.

"Action not talking," has become Al-Najjar's mantra.

As for the speech meant to redefine America's relationship to the Muslim world, prominent Egyptian blogger Wael Abbas told the BBC, "Obama should make a statement to a free Muslim country…Egypt is not a free Muslim country."

“It’s devastating that a man like Obama is coming to Egypt to reinforce the oppressive policies of President Hosni Mubarak," he said, adding, "It's like beating 80 million Egyptians over the head - like saying we believe in democracy but not here."

Meanwhile, the Khalas movement called for a demonstration in Cairo’s Liberation Square from 8 p.m. on Wednesday (June 3) until Thursday afternoon when Obama is due to arrive in Egypt.