George S. Hishmeh
The Jordan Times
February 4, 2011 - 1:00am

The surprising determined refusal of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in office for nearly 30 years, to step down immediately has probably stunned many worldwide, and especially the hundreds of thousands of his ever-increasing opponents who have been demonstrating for days against his regime in Egypt’s main cities.

Equally alarming were Mubarak’s brief televised remarks, broadcast late Tuesday night, that he would not seek reelection but promises an orderly transition before his term expires in September.

Again, the Egyptian leader declared emphatically that he would never leave Egypt but would “die on its soil”.

All this raised concerns, locally and internationally, that Mubarak’s belated concession may touch off a bloodbath in the country, since his opponents are equally determined to kick out the former army general who took over the presidency after the assassination of president Anwar Sadat.

Intriguing here has been the intimate relationship between the US and its all-important Egyptian ally, and his ties with Israel. Indeed, President Barack Obama had to walk a thin line ever since the historic Egyptian uprising. At the same time, there were some shocking statements by his vice president, Joe Biden, who refused to describe Mubarak as a dictator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who was, for example, criticised in a Washington Post editorial for making “foolish” statements in defence of the Mubarak regime.

In his statement after Mubarak announced last Tuesday his intention not to run for reelection, the American president lauded “the passion and the dignity that has been demonstrated by the people of Egypt [which] has been an inspiration to people around the world, including here in the United States, and to all those who believe in the inevitability of human freedom”.

But then Obama added an ambiguous sentence that is bound to have several different interpretations when he said it “is my belief that an orderly transition [in Egypt] must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now”.

Whether this meant that the American leader expected more from Mubarak in the next few weeks - probably an early step down - or it was a tepid endorsement, meaning that the Egyptian leader can stay in office till the end of his term, in September, remains to be seen. The latter probability is bound to rankle the Egyptian people and others in the region.

The virtual ouster of Mubarak, triggered by the recent Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, has also troubled Israelis, particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, in 1979, and remains a firm protector of the Egyptian-Israeli border, especially between the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

Moreover, Israel has been privately urging several Western governments, especially the United States, to curtail their criticism of the Mubarak regime, in the hope of maintaining stability in the Middle East. Israeli diplomats in key Western countries, as well as China and Russia, have reportedly been instructed to maintain a low profile about the turbulence in Egypt. But Israel’s fear of an emerging hostile Egyptian government, reported the Telegraph of London, may “force Israel into a major adjustment of its military strategy”.

The paper pointed out that “since the two states have signed a peace treaty, Egypt has received billions of dollars in military aid from the United States, making its army a much trickier battlefield prospect”.

The London paper overlooked the fact that Israel receives at least 50 per cent more US military aid than Egypt.

Israel has recently allowed Egypt, for the first time since the countries signed a peace treaty, to deploy two battalions in the Sinai Peninsula. The Israelis are said to be especially worried that “Palestinian militants take advantage of the [Egyptian] unrest to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip through tunnels under the Egyptian-Gaza border”.

While Israel continues trying to endear itself to the US and Egypt, a newly elected Republican senator and Tea Party representative, Rand Paul, has astonishingly suggested that the US stop all foreign aid, including financial assistance to Israel totalling $3 billion a year. This prompted several pro-Israeli congressmen and organisations, and surprisingly the so-called J Street, described as “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group, to severely criticise the congressman.

In reply, Paul said that a recent Reuters poll found that 71 per cent of Americans “agree with me that when we’re short of money ... we certainly shouldn’t be shipping the money overseas”, and wondered why “are we funding an arms race on both sides”.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017