On 29 January, the Tahrir Campus of the American University in Cairo, of which the present writer is an alumnus, welcomed a very distinguished visitor. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the guest on this occasion, was on a Middle Eastern tour that started with Egypt on 30-31 January before he left for Israel and Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.
Many years ago, a former US secretary of state, Condoleeza Rice, addressed a select audience at the same university.
Blinken made some opening remarks about the partnership that has existed between the US and Egypt since 1978 and how much Washington is looking forward to strengthening US-Egyptian relations and partnering with Cairo in preserving security and stability in the Middle East.
After his remarks, the reporters present were asked to leave for a closed meeting with representatives of Egyptian civil society and young people to take place.
A day before Blinken’s arrival in Egypt, the State Department released a document entitled “The US-Egypt Relationship” that deals with various aspects of US-Egyptian relations, always from a US point of view, of course.
It tackles issues like “Promoting Regional Security,” “Bolstering Economic Opportunity,” “Advancing People-to-People Ties,” “Tackling the Climate Crises,” “Strengthening a Critical Defence Partnership,” and “Realising a Democratic and Prosperous Future for All.”
Under the last heading, the document says that the US “firmly believes critical partnerships like the US-Egypt relationship are stronger when there is a shared commitment to human rights.”
It says the US maintains “an active dialogue that seeks to reinforce tangible steps to promote freedom of expression, end political detention and strengthen the rule of law, and undertake critical judicial reforms, including with respect to pre-trial detention.”
The parts of the document on “Promoting Regional Security” and “Strengthening a Critical Defence Partnership” can be considered together.
They deal with the regional security environment and the joint role of Cairo and Washington in maintaining regional security and stability, working together to find political solutions to the crises in Libya and Sudan, and fighting terrorism.
The document also refers to the “unwavering commitment [of the US and Egypt] to a negotiated two-state solution as the only path to a lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
The magic word in this context is “negotiated,” which begs the question of negotiated by whom? The occupying power of the West Bank, Israel, has boycotted negotiations with the Palestinian Authority since April 2014 and has exercised a veto on the resumption of negotiating a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict since then.
In his remarks at the AUC, Blinken sprang one surprise, to say the least, and I am not sure how well it will be received by the majority of Egyptian people.
He said that “we,” meaning the US administration I imagine, have “established recently… a council of advisers for the ambassador, a youth council” designed to advise “the American ambassador in Egypt and “our team… on every issue of concern to both our societies.”
He did not mince his words. He told his audience that “we need to be constantly getting input and getting advice” from this recently established “council of advisers.”
I cannot help asking, even if just out of sheer curiosity, who the members of this “council” were chosen by. Are they genuinely representative of Egypt? Should we not be entitled to know their names and political affiliations?
Isn’t the establishment of such foreign-inspired bodies an infringement on our national sovereignty? Or is history, whether recent or further away in the past, simply repeating itself?
Our grandparents fought for 72 years for the independence of Egypt from foreign occupation and intervention in our domestic affairs, whether directly or indirectly through a network of pro-occupation officials and business leaders.
We should not fail to honour their national struggle to make Egypt a free and brave country.
During his short visit to Cairo, Secretary Blinken met President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi before he held talks with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukri.
The talks reaffirmed the “strategic partnership” between the two countries. Shoukry said the talks tackled several subjects of mutual interest, principally the Palestinian question, the situation in Libya, and the democratic transition in Sudan. Needless to say, Egyptian-American relations took centre stage, with special emphasis on working together to avoid escalation in the occupied West Bank, the reaffirmation of the two-state solution, economic relations, and American support for a negotiated deal between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia concerning the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam , a deal that would take into consideration the interests of the three parties.
One point of notable interest is the statement of Secretary Blinken that Egypt has made “big progress” in human rights.That in itself proves that the visit of Secretary Blinken to Cairo proved to be successful from an Egyptian point of view.
* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 2 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly