First Lady Treads Carefully Through Egypt's Politics
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 24, 1999; Page A19
CAIRO, March 23 – In a country that has banned some political parties, arrested human rights workers and detained thousands of suspected Islamic radicals without trial, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton surveyed Egypt's progress toward democracy and civil society in a speech today and decided it was doing pretty well.
In a carefully worded, half-hour address, Clinton avoided even implicit criticism of an important U.S. ally where security concerns are paramount and the government historically has been hesitant to turn any operations over to businesses or other organizations. Instead, she praised the government for expanding opportunities for nongovernmental organizations involved with health care and women's rights. She said she was looking forward to visiting a "democracy school" in Luxor that teaches people about citizenship, and that reductions in the rates of population growth and infant mortality showed progress is being made.
An aide told the Associated Press that Clinton did express concern to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak about the treatment of the country's Coptic Christian minority -- an issue Egyptian officials say has been greatly distorted by Western politicians and journalists.
But such worries largely have been consigned to the background during her trip to North Africa with her daughter, Chelsea, who is on her spring break from Stanford University.
Capping a three-day visit to the Arab world's largest city, Clinton shied away from controversial themes.
Rather, she asked her audience to imagine -- they were ancient Egyptians assembling cargo for their journey to the afterworld -- what they will need on the journey to a new life in the 21st century.
It was a metaphor that let her stick to such safely neutral themes as religious tolerance and education -- appropriate to a trip that has been light on substance and heavy on sightseeing.
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