Egypt lashes out at U.S. for backing reform

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Egyptians arrested after a pro-reform rally have received backing from the United States which is demanding that Egypt respects freedom of expression. The Egyptian government says it does not want any external interference in its internal affairs.

Following Tuesday’s arrests of dozens of Egyptians at a pro-reform rally in central Cairo, Washington has voiced its opinion that Egyptians should be allowed to freely choose their next president.

Former UN nuclear watchdog Chief Mohamed ElBaradei, has said he is willing to run against incumbent Egyptian president Mr. Mohamed Hosni Mubarak in 2011 on condition that the election is free and fair and that the constitution is revised to ease candidacy restrictions.

“We believe that all individuals should be allowed to exercise freely fundamental freedoms… all Egyptians should have a meaningful role to play in an open, transparent, inclusive political process,” U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley is quoted.

However Cairo has said U.S. suggestion was made in “a manner that goes beyond convention and Egypt finds unacceptable.” Eyewitnesses at the protest said police beat and dragged the activists and seized reporters’ cameras.

President Mubarak, a close U.S. ally who has rejected calls from the international community for reform, is facing mounting opposition at home after nearly three decades in power with emergency laws.

Although Egypt has changed its constitution to allow the opposition to contest presidential polls, potential candidates must meet strict criteria for participation. A ban remains on religious political parties.

Campaigners for political reform have become more vocal in recent times and have taken to the streets in defiance of an emergency law, in force since 1981. Activists say the law restricts political expression. However, the activists arrested on Tuesday have all been released.

“We continue to support free elections in Egypt and continue to make that clear to the government of Egypt. It was part of our ongoing dialogue with Egypt,” Crowley added.

President Mubarak has taken a more moderate line, but Islamic groups have continued their campaigns sporadically, being responsible for deadly attacks that have often targeted tourists and resort areas. His strongest challenger is the Muslim Brotherhood which is tolerated but officially banned.

Nonetheless, Egypt has played a key role in efforts to resolve the Middle East conflict; its prestige as a broker is said to have suffered after its indecisive response to the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

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