CAIRO, 4 Oct 2006 (IRIN) - United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to Cairo spelled a reversal in US policy on human rights and democratisation in the Middle East, analysts said.
"The US was expected to exert pressure on Arab regimes to improve the human rights situation," political analyst Gamal Essam El-Din said. "Instead, Rice focused on garnering support against Iran, at the expense of human rights in the region."
Rice was in Cairo as part of a Middle East tour aimed at strengthening links with 'moderate leaders' in the region.
El-Din made his remarks after Rice adopted a hands-off approach to issues of political reform and human rights abuses in Egypt on Tuesday at a press conference in Cairo.
Asked about the continued imprisonment of former presidential candidate Dr Ayman Nour and the issue of presidential succession, Rice refused to be drawn. She had expressed her "very strong concerns" about the arrest of the opposition Ghad party leader in February 2005, but refused on this occasion to comment on the matter again.
Nour was convicted of forgery charges in December 2005, three months after finishing second in Egypt's first contested presidential election. The charges are widely believed to be fabricated.
Rice's refusal to comment on Nour's continued imprisonment was a telling sign of policy change, El-Din said.
"The US is keen not to alienate its key allies in the region, including President Hosni Mubarak, in order to be able to score political goals against Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. As a result, it is sacrificing on pressuring these regimes on issues of human rights lest it lose their political support," El-Din said.
He added that the trend was not altogether new. "The State Department's new report on the human rights situation in Egypt was unusually soft, and failed to convincingly investigate the crackdowns on political and rights activists that have taken place over the year," El-Din said.
On the issue of presidential succession, which has aroused much debate in Egypt as it is widely feared that President Mubarak's 43-year-old son Gamal is being groomed to be the next head-of-state, Rice said "it is absolutely up to the Egyptian people who is the president of Egypt. This is not something that the US should, can or will have an opinion."
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