An interesting post from Josh Stacher, guesting over at the Arabist Network, on Madeline Albright’s day at Cairo’s Ibn Khaldun Center. Albright, says Stacher, is heading a task force “examining how US policy should approach reform in the Arab world for the Council on Foreign Relations.” She took pains, it appears, to stress that she doesn’t speak for the USG. A good read, all said, especially for those that believe Egypt is the crucible for change in the ME. I actually don’t know anything about Stacher, or how he ended up at this meeting, but I’m glad he went. Here’s one of the more interesting moments from his entry (Weber is former Republican congressman and lobbyist Vin Webber, who co-chairs the task force):
The most amusing part of the exchange was when one participant spoke about his working with Mubarak when he was VP. He said that “There is a lot of good in Mr. Mubarak. I don’t think that is totally gone. It is just the old guard negatively influencing him.” At this point, I had visions of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader and lost my train of thought. Could Mubarak be stolen away from the Empire and saved by the rebel alliance?
It was about at this point, Albright and Weber interjected. Basically, the main message Albright chose to emphasize was a statement followed by a question. She said (as a member of the CFR, not speaking for the US government) the problem is “that there is not a viable opposition movement in Egypt that we can support.” At this point, I was started to understand – hey this is not a US problem, it is an Egyptian problem. Egyptians need to mobilize and build a secular opposition movement that the US can consider in their policy formation meetings. Then Albright asked, “What do you want us to do in very specific terms? We have lots of means and avenues that we could help. Give us something to work with.”
Ah ha…..the old ‘you all are disorganized – get organized and we’ll back you – you know we’re good for it’ tactic.
Sounds like Albright misses her old job. It remains to be seen how serious a look this panel will take at Egypt, or how seriously its recommendations will be taken by anyone in Washington. Albright seems to be meeting some interesting people, including the folks from Hizb Al-Ghad. But, at least judging from Stacher’s post, there seems to be a heavy business/establishment reform bias. Which is just the way Mubarak wants it, and frankly, it’s the Bush administration’s preference as well. Any serious movement on reforming Egypt’s economy would probably be enough to satisfy the White House, despite the president’s recent, voluble rhetoric.