By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
The son of Egypt's president made a secret trip to Washington last week to meet with Vice President Cheney and other senior U.S. officials a day after thousands of Egyptian riot police broke up a pro-democracy demonstration back in Cairo, U.S. and Egyptian officials said yesterday.
Gamal Mubarak, 42, a powerful political player and widely considered a possible heir to his father, Hosni Mubarak, told the U.S. officials that Egypt is committed to further democracy but said it would be a long-term process that will include setbacks. "There was no tension at all," Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmi said in an interview. "They listened to his explanation of what was happening."
But U.S. officials have publicly called themselves "deeply concerned" about Egypt's recent actions and they used the opportunity to press upon Gamal Mubarak their views of what needs to be done to further genuine reform in Egypt, said a Bush administration official who was not authorized to discuss the meeting on the record. The administration has been impressed by Egypt's moves to restructure its economy but disappointed at the government's failure to open its political system more.
Fahmi said Mubarak was on a "private visit" and decided to see top administration officials Friday. A source familiar with the talks said Mubarak came to the United States to renew his pilot's license. Neither side announced the meetings, which were first reported by al-Jazeera television and later confirmed by U.S. spokesmen.
Aside from Cheney, Mubarak had a separate White House meeting with national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley. President Bush stopped by for a few minutes to shake Mubarak's hand and convey greetings to his father. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stayed for a portion of the discussion with Hadley. It is unusual for a private foreign citizen with no official portfolio to receive so much high-level attention.
The meetings came a day after stick-wielding riot police officers disrupted a demonstration in Cairo, chasing protesters, beating them and removing them. The demonstrators were supporting two judges from Egypt's highest court who alleged fraud during elections last year and were threatened with disciplinary action.
Activists saw the incident as part of a broader crackdown on dissent, despite what they dismiss as cosmetic moves toward democracy intended to placate the Bush administration. Hosni Mubarak allowed himself to be challenged in last year's presidential election, only to later imprison his main opponent. The Bush administration suspended trade talks in response.
Fahmi called the clash an unfortunate upshot of a more democratic Egypt in which people previously silent now are expressing their views. "I just see this as a normal consequence of the opening-up process," he said. "Would it have been better if no one had gotten arrested during protests? Sure. . . . Hopefully, in time, people will demonstrate without violating the law, and demonstrations will occur without people getting arrested."
Staff writer Glenn Kessler contributed to this report.