CAIRO: Shortly before she arrived in Cairo for talks with President Hosni Mubarak on key Middle East issues including regional political reform, Egyptian newspapers blasted the United States for meddling in the country s internal affairs.
In two days of diplomatic shuttling in the region, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was expected to ask key regional powers to pressure the new Hamas leadership in the Palestinian territories to moderate its policies. She also was believed to be planning to seek assistance in pressuring Iran on its nuclear program.
In Cairo, commentators lashed out at Rice for her reported criticism of Mubarak’s government s failure to open up its political system. Last week the U.S. State Department was critical of the Mubarak government s decision to postpone upcoming local elections.
“Of course we were disappointed, Rice said at the time. And the message that I will take to Egypt is that Egypt needs to stay on a democratic course. It needs to keep pushing ahead on the democratic course.
“What does Dr. Condoleeza Rice want from Egypt? Why does she ignite Egyptians anger every time she visits Cairo? Is it a prudent diplomacy to attack a country before she visits it, wrote Mohammed El-Shabah, editor of the independent Nahdat Masr newspaper.
“Every time Condoleezza Rice travels to the area she fires off statements, warnings and insinuations about democracy in the region, wrote Abdellah Nassar a key for the government owned Al Gomhoria newspaper. Egypt is capable of running its affairs. It does not need a mandate or pre-conditions.
The government owned Al Ahram was more specific and criticized U.S. calls to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority after a Hamas-led government was put in place in the Palestinian territories.
The Mubarak government also indicated that it does not see eye to eye with the Bush administration about many issues thought to be on the Rice agenda.
An Egyptian diplomatic source said that during its talks with Rice, Egypt was expected to stress the importance of giving Hamas time and for withholding judgement, according to the state run Middle East News Agency.
Rice wants Arab governments to help isolate and financially strangle Hamas if the organization maintains its refusal to accept Israel s right to exist and does not renounce violence and agree to honor agreements made by the previous, moderate Palestinian leadership.
The United States and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization. Rice is making her first trip to the region since the surprise Hamas victory in Palestinian elections last month, and does not plan to see any Palestinian officials.
The United States has already begun to sever financial ties to the Palestinian Authority, and Israel says it will stop handing over about $55 million a month in taxes and duties it collects on the Palestinians behalf.
The Cairo-base Arab League urged all Arab countries to continue funding the Palestinian Authority even when Hamas forms its government but failed during a meeting in Algiers on Tuesday to agree to a formula.
In addition to setting strategy on Hamas, Rice is appealing for continued Arab support as the United States moves toward a showdown with Iran in the United Nations Security Council. Egypt and other Arab countries call for a Middle East nuclear free zone that should include Israel.
The Bush administration, and Rice in particular, have been far more critical of recent democratic setbacks in Egypt. Rice canceled her first planned trip there last year in a dispute over the jailing of opposition figure Ayman Nour. While in Cairo she plans to meet with Mubarak s critics and other human rights activists.
As the first Arab state to make peace with Israel, Egypt is a crucial player in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, and senior Egyptian politicians and government officials currently offer the most effective channel through which the rest of the world can influence Hamas. AP