Prime Minister postpones Gulf tour, more pressing concerns at home

Dina Ezzat , Saturday 23 Apr 2011

Sectarian tensions in Upper Egypt are said to be the main reason behind the postponement of Prime Minister Sharaf's Gulf tour, which was due to begin tomorrow Sunday

An Arab Gulf tour that Prime Minister Essam Sharaf was due to start tomorrow has been put off, says an Egyptian diplomat.

Speaking to Al-Ahram Online, he said that the delay was due to the many commitments of Prime Minister Sharaf at home.

Prime Minister Sharf is on a visit to Sinai today. He is accompanied by the ministers of interior and development to discuss long-pending demands by Sinai Bedouins for more development and better security arrangements.

A source at the office of the prime minister said that following his visit to Sinai, Sharaf is planning to head to Qena "within a day or two" to address the "explosive situation there", with thousands continuing to protest the appointment of Essam Shehata Mikhail as governor.

The situation in Qena has been tense for close to a week since the appointment was made, and attempts by figures of the civil society, including some ultra-orthodox religious figures, failed to end the wide public unrest in that Upper Egypt governorate.

"This is a much more pressing demands than any foreign visit," said the source at the office of the prime minister.

Apart from Qena, where the protests are inspired by an anti-Coptic sentiments and tribal divides, the appointments of several other governors have also triggered public protests. The prime minister, according to the same source at his office, is "very concerned about this attitude" and he feels he needs to directly "and candidly" address the people on these matters.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian diplomatic source said that the Gulf tour is "currently being rescheduled" for next week or a little later.

"We have to fix the appointments and to make sure that the various schedules fit together, because some of the officials in these countries are planning overseas tours in the next few days," the same diplomat said.

According to the plan that is being worked out, Sharf should visit Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

The focus of the tour is to affirm Egypt's keen interest to maintain close ties with these countries. "There are ample opportunities for wider and closer cooperation between Egypt and all the Gulf states, and we believe that this keenness is shared," the same diplomat stated.

He denied that the delay is prompted by "new sensitivities" in relations between Egypt and Arab Gulf countries over Cairo's plans to normalise relations with Tehran or over the reluctance of Cairo to suspend the trial of former President Hosni Mubarak as has been requested by some Arab Gulf capitals, especially Riyadh. "It is only a matter of rescheduling," he insisted.

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