Egypt's Opposition Begs U.S. for More Democracy

A U.S. diplomatic source said security considerations had won the day; these were translated into action immediately. The students at the university, established in 1908 on the foundations of the university set up by Muhammad Ali, were told to stay away from the campus on the day of the speech, with seven nearby schools closed as sharpshooters blanket the route.

The streets near the bustling area will be closed to traffic, and many Egyptian storekeepers have announced that they will not open tomorrow because of the crowds and security checks.

Some observers said holding the address at the Saladin Citadel would have led to "unsuitable" implications. "Are we ready at this point to adopt Obama as the modern Saladin?" the editor of an opposition newspaper asked a Haaretz correspondent. "It seems to me we are rushing to embrace Obama even before he has shown an ability to bring about any changes in Israel's policy."

But it's not merely Obama's policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict that is raising doubts. The ideological change being offered by the new U.S. administration - the one in which the Bush administration's "marketing of democracy" is being abandoned - is worrying Egypt's intellectual elites. This week, Osama al-Ghazali Harb, the head of the Democratic Front Party that was established last year, wrote an open letter to Obama with suggestions for the address.

"Egypt and the U.S. are binary opposites," wrote Harb, whom President Hosni Mubarak has appointed to the Shura Council, Egypt's upper house of parliament. "While Egypt is one of the oldest political entities in history, the U.S. is the newest and the most important."

Harb wrote how the "central feature of the Egyptian State, since ancient times over 4,000 years ago, was its tyranny and despotism, while the central idea upon which the U.S. is based is 'freedom.'"

Harb, who left the ruling party after a dispute with its leadership and especially the president's son, Gamal Mubarak, over Egypt's path, begged Obama to continue spreading freedom and democracy in the Arab and Muslim world.

"I do not share the view espoused by many of my countrymen - whether they are honest or hypocritical - that U.S. support for democracy and freedom in our countries is tantamount to interference in our internal affairs. On the contrary, I wholly believe that it is necessary and inevitable."

Harb wrote that America's "political, moral and ethical support for democracy and human rights in our countries is even more important than your economic and military aid. In fact, Mr. President, I think that your support for democracy in our countries will be a kind of penance or apology for the responsibility of the United States in previous decades by supporting authoritarian regimes and undemocratic governments that contributed - directly or indirectly - to the achievement of American interests at the expense of our peoples, our future and our children's future."

It's doubtful whether Harb's article will persuade Obama. He is visiting Saudi Arabia today to hear the ideas of that country's monarch, King Abdullah, on the peace process.

But Saudi Arabia has another respectable role to play. It will have to serve as a counterweight to the Iranian influence on Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan if dialogue with Iran does not succeed. Riyadh aids the governments of both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and its ties with Sunni Islamic movements in these countries are vital for a political and diplomatic solution.

Saudi Arabia is also important on the Lebanese front, where elections will be held this Sunday; it helps fund the bloc headed by Saad Hariri, the majority leader in the Lebanese parliament and son of the assassinated prime minister. Saudi Arabia also initiated the Arab peace plan, which plays a key role in Obama's ideological platform for the region. Will Obama ask the monarch to kindly change his kingdom's regime so it will be a little more democratic?

Sadat vs. Nasser

The much-publicized conflict between Ruqaya Sadat, the eldest daughter of the assassinated Egyptian president, and Hoda Abdel Nasser, the daughter former president Gamal Abdel Nasser, has finally ended. A Cairo court ruled this week that Hoda Nasser must pay 150,000 Egyptian pounds ($27,000) to Ruqaya Sadat for defaming her father.

The affair began about a year ago when Hoda Nasser charged that Anwar Sadat was responsible for killing her father, rather than a heart attack as doctors had said. Nasser said in a newspaper that her father had dined with Anwar Sadat shortly before his death, and that Sadat had drugged her father's food. Ruqaya al-Sadat would not let that go by. "All I wanted was for her to apologize, but she refused," she said after the verdict.

Ruqaya is striving to uphold her father's reputation. This year she took steps to prevent the screening in Egypt of an Iranian film that describes how "brave" Sadat's murderer was.

She also campaigned against an Egyptian director who was planning to produce an unauthorized film version of her father's life. In her court suit, Sadat claimed that her father's biography was "the family's private property" and that no one could do what they liked with it. The court ruled that the subject was not within its jurisdiction.