Obama’s gentle shift of U.S. policy on Egypt comes with big risks

Paul Koring|TheGlobeAndMail

By all accounts, there appears to be in-fighting among elitists on how to handle the growing anarchy in the Middle East sector of their burgeoning regime.

After decades of American policy predicated on backing reliable, albeit repressive regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Barack Obama has begun signalling more sympathy with the aspirations of protesters in the Arab street, a shift that could put the president on the right side of history or doom his relations in the Middle East.

It’s a “move charged with great danger,” said Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. “The Obama team is tilting slightly away from Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian strongman and U.S. critical ally.”

Mr. Obama, in his first public comments as protests rocked Arab capitals, said he had told the Egyptian president to move “forward on reform – political reform, economic reform” and that doing so was “absolutely critical for the long-term well-being of Egypt.”

White House spokesman insist the president still regards the Mubarak government as a key ally. But U.S. demands that Cairo and other Arab capitals heed the rising chorus of calls for democracy and accountability signals a push for change and sends a warning to other Arab rulers that they may face the ignominious fate of Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia.

The Obama administration is rapidly recasting its position, apparently trying to stay abreast of the spreading street battles in Egypt, Yemen, Algeria and Jordan.

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