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Egypt: Time of great opportunity

A number of senior foreign policy officials from Western countries are expected in Cairo in the coming days, seeking assurances that the 25 January Revolution will not change the foreign policy orientation of Egypt

Dina Ezzat , Friday 11 Mar 2011
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In Egypt, Western officials are offering assistance and seeking reassurance. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton and Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jiménez are among senior world officials expected in Cairo within the next few days.

The officials will hold meetings with, among others, the chair of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, Foreign Minister Nabil El-Arabi, representatives of the 25 January Coalition, possible candidates for the next presidential race, and members of civil society. The primary objective is to seek assurance that Egypt is not moving away from the so-called "moderate" camp into that of the region's hardliners.

Included on the agenda is careful monitoring — indeed exchange of information and assessments — of the current and possible future role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the new political scene emerging in Egypt. "We are well aware that they are, there but we also want to see how much influence they have," said a visiting European diplomat last week.

Another objective is to secure a strong presence for respective countries and bodies in providing limited economic and large capacity-building assistance to Egypt to make sure that the democratisation process in Egypt is supported amid harsh economic challenges that might lead to unexpected social results.

Ultimately, Western diplomats in Cairo say, these visits come with a message to the rest of the Arab world that should they wish to democratise, they would receive the support of the international community.

"We don’t want the new regimes of the Arab countries to feel alienated. We want to make sure that the new regimes continue to see us as good friends that they can count on, and do business with," said one Cairo-based Western diplomat.

"The UK is very keen to see the part we can play," said Aliastair Burt, UK minister for the Middle East and North Africa. Speaking in Cairo on Thursday evening, following talks with representatives of the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces, the 25 January Coalition, officials and members of civil society. During talks, Burt examined the forms of assistance Britain could offer Egypt during the transition of power that should be followed by the end of the state of emergency.

The objective of the British minister's talks, as he put it, is to encourage prompt move towards "free and fair democratic elections". Similar messages have been put forward during the past few days by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and the foreign ministers of Germany and France, among others.

Another keen message or question that is being — and will be — relayed during the foreign visitors meetings in Cairo is related to the "need to keep and promote peace with Israel" and to ensure that "Egypt would continue to play its important role in promoting Middle East peace".

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