Egyptian ambassador to the US, Nabil Fahmi, had his hands full this week arguing his government’s case to vice president Dick Cheney, national security adviser Stephen Hadley and any State Department official dealing with the Middle East he was able to buttonhole.
His presentation did not take long: holding elections in Egypt’s 70,000 local councils on schedule in two months time would very likely bring down Hosni Mubarak‘s central government in Cairo.
The Egyptian ambassador explained further that local councils and municipalities administer the day-to-day lives of Egyptian citizens. Their capture by Muslim Brotherhood radicals, which is predicted by all the polls, would destroy the substructure of national government and topple the presidency in its wake.
Reporting this, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources reveal that Ambassador Fahmi armed himself for his meetings with US officials with an intelligence appraisal which president Mubarak handed him in person. The document specifies which of Egypt’s main cities are most at risk of falling into radical Muslim Brotherhood hands in an April election.
Our sources present the gist of those findings here:
The big cities certain to be lost:
Abu Hummus, Talkha, Damanhur, Zagazig and Mansura – all in the Nile Delta region north of Cairo; Rashid, north of Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast.
Parts of Cairo outside of the Wasta, Giza, and El Saff districts.
Asyut and Souag in the Lower Delta.
All these locations have populations of more than a million.
Other towns certain to be lost are El Arish and a-Tur in the Sinai Peninsula
Towns which could go either way include Alexandria, Ismailiya – on the Suez Canal and the strategic town of Aswan near the Aswan Dam in the south.
The Egyptian ambassador argued that the only way to arrest the country’s slide in the hands of radical Islam was to have parliament postpone the elections by two years. By delaying the ballot, president Mubarak would gain time to pass constitutional amendments setting out local councils’ authority under a plan to decentralize government.
The replies he encountered from all Washington officials were uniform: a resounding No! Elections must not be postponed in Egypt or any other part of the Middle East.
Nonetheless, Mubarak went ahead Tuesday, Feb. 14, and submitted to the lower house of parliament a bill for deferring the local council ballot by two years, leaving time to pass the necessary constitutional amendments.
Washington was quick to show its displeasure. Referring to the Egyptian Shura Council’s approval of the delay, US state department spokesman Sean McCormack said stiffly: “As a matter of principle we do not favor postponing elections. It is something that we are going to be discussing with the Egyptian government.”
He added: “I expect we’ll do it through conversations here, probably as well as in Cairo.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report that, unofficially the Americans were livid.
Rice phoned Fahmi to tell him that the administration continues to insist that elections take place in April. When the ambassador replied that parliament had decided otherwise, the secretary of state retorted: So change the decision.
The upshot of the row is that both sides are firmly entrenched in their positions; the Bush administration stands by its demand for an April election – come what may, while the Egyptian president is just as firmly fixed on postponement.
“On no account,” he told his aides, “will I allow Egypt to fall in a process like the one that brought Hamas to power in the Palestinian Authority by the ballot box!”