Thursday, March 02, 2006

Mubarak says Egypt won over Rice on democracy

Wed Mar 1, 2006

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Egypt had won over U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to its views on democracy in the Arab world and quoted her as saying it would take a generation for democracy to take hold.

"She was very polite as she was listening to Egyptian opinions and points of view. She didn't bring up difficult issues or ask to change anything or to intervene in political reform, as some people say," he told newspaper editors.

Mubarak, who met Rice in Cairo last Wednesday, was speaking on Monday on his way back from a trip to the Gulf. His remarks were published in the government newspaper al-Gomhuria.

"She was convinced by the way that political reform and the implementation of democracy is being done in Egypt ... She said that democracy in the Arab countries needed a generation," the newspaper quoted him as saying.

In public in Cairo, Rice said she had talked candidly with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit about what she called setbacks and disappointments in Egyptian domestic politics during 2005, including the jailing of liberal opposition leader Ayman Nour.

Political analysts say the U.S. campaign for democracy in the Arab world, which began in earnest as an explanation for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, has lost steam in recent months.

Egypt held its first multi-candidate presidential election last year. Mubarak won with 89 percent of the vote but monitors said that irregularities were widespread.

The opposition says tough terms on candidacy strip the system of presidential elections of any meaning. The ruling party is currently the only group which meets the conditions to field a candidate for president.

In parliamentary elections in November and December, the Muslim Brotherhood, which is hostile to U.S. policies, increased its number of seats fivefold while the secular opposition favoured by the United States fared badly.

Mubarak said that at their first meeting Rice told him she knew nothing about the Middle East. But after listening to the Egyptians, "she understood the truth about the situation in the Arab region," he added.


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