Mubarak ‘no dictator’ says Joe Biden, ignoring facts

Hosni Mubarak and Joe Biden

Nigel Horne: WikiLeaked cables tell of endemic torture - but help explain US support for the regime

BY Nigel Horne LAST UPDATED AT 14:31 ON Sat 29 Jan 2011

Is US Vice President Joe Biden reading the same embassy cables the rest of us are? Thanks to WikiLeaks, the world now knows what the US Ambassador in Egypt was thinking about the regime of President Hosni Mubarak before this week's protests, even if Biden appears to be out of the loop.

On the PBS show Newshour this week, Biden, who was invited by President Obama to be his Veep above all for his knowledge of world affairs, said of Mubarak: "I would not refer to him as a dictator."

What criteria is Biden using? As pro-democracy commentators have been swift to remind the Vice President, Mubarak has been in power for 30 years, is grooming his son Gamal to replace him on his death, throws bloggers and protesters in jail, and turns a blind eye when his opponents are tortured by the security forces.

None of which has been a secret, especially to Biden, who has had access to a slew of cables from Cairo since he and Obama took over at the White House in January 2009.

Here - courtesy of WikiLeaks - is one in which US Ambassador Margaret Scobey addresses the endemic use of torture by Egyptian police:

"The police use brutal methods mostly against common criminals to extract confessions, but also against demonstrators, certain political prisoners and unfortunate bystanders. One human rights lawyer told us there is evidence of torture in Egypt dating back to the time of the pharoahs. NGO contacts estimate there are literally hundreds of torture incidents every day in Cairo police stations alone."

Under Mubarak's presidency, the cable went on, there had been "no serious effort to transform the police from an instrument of regime power into a public service institution".

The embassy had been told how middle-class Egyptians did not report thefts from their apartment blocks because they knew the police would likely torture "all of the doormen".

The cable cited one source who said the police simply beat up human rights lawyers who go into police stations to defend their clients. Women detainees risked sexual abuse.

So why Biden's apparently pussy-footing line on Mubarak?

The US relationship with Egypt is delicately poised. Egypt was the first Arab nation to recognise Israel and continues to act as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians; Cairo has backed the US on sanctions against Iran; and, like the ousted President Ben Ali of Tunisia, Mubarak has acted as a bulwark against Islamist fundamentalism, which in Egypt's case means keeping the opposition Muslim Brotherhood in check.

Another cable from Ambassador Scobey, dated March 31, 2009, two months after Obama's inauguration, explained how, in reward for its support of US foreign interests, Egypt receives an annual $1.3bn grant from the US to enable the Mubarak regime to purchase US military hardware.

Ambassador Scobey's report makes it clear that Mubarak sees the annual payment as "untouchable compensation" for making and maintaining peace with Israel.

She goes on: "The tangible benefits to our mil-mil [military-military] relationship are clear: Egypt remains at peace with Israel, and the US military enjoys priority access to the Suez Canal and Egyptian airspace."

Ambassador Scobey's cable also helps explain why Joe Biden, even in the midst of the pro-democracy protests on the streets of Cairo, would continue to support Mubarak.

Scobey concludes her March 31 cable: "We continue to promote democratic reform in Egypt, including the expansion of political freedom and pluralism, and respect for human rights.

"Egyptian democracy and human rights efforts, however, are being stymied, and the GoE [Government of Egypt] remains skeptical of our role in democracy promotion, complaining that any efforts to open up will result in empowering the Muslim Brotherhood, which currently holds 86 seats in Egypt's 454-seat parliament."

Needless to say, the idea of the Muslim Brotherhood running Egypt is as unpalatable to Biden and Obama as it is to Mubarak. · 

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