Collateral unpleasantness that Washington would rather not discuss

Tony Karon in The National:

AP_Mubarak_Obama_Washington_Mideast_18aug09 On Saturday, CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked a guest on his show how al Qa'eda fitted into events in Egypt. The question itself was reminiscent of Larry King a few years back asking Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to explain yoga.

Mr Blitzer's vigilance against Qa'eda bogeymen lurking in Egypt's democracy protests epitomises the US habit of seeing Egypt only through the prism of Washington's regional agenda.

US officials forced to explain their support for Hosni Mubarak's repressive autocracy over the past week have stressed Mr Mubarak's cooperation with Israel and support for a US regional strategy highly unpopular with the citizenry of the Arab world. As the State Department spokesman, PJ Crowley, told Al Jazeera: “Egypt is an anchor of stability in the Middle East … It's made its own peace with Israel and is pursuing normal relations with Israel. We think that's … a model that the region should adopt.”

The fact that Mr Mubarak has been kept in power for three decades by a police state that tortures opponents and runs sham elections is collateral unpleasantness that Washington would rather not discuss. In fact, it has been happy to outsource the torture of terror suspects to Mr Mubarak's security services under the CIA's “extraordinary rendition” programme. Fearing that democracy in Egypt would empower the Muslim Brotherhood, the US has lobbied for Mubarak-initiated reforms.

But paranoia over Islamist participation restrains US support for Arab democracy, which in most countries would include Islamist parties.

More here.