Monday, 21 February 2011

Cameron lands in Egypt - a high risk, no win strategy

Prime Minister David Cameron has arrived for a short visit in Egypt as part of a middle east tour originally meant to boost arms sales according to Conservative Home.

Being the first foreign leader to visit since the fall of Mubarak is clearly an advantage, but Mr Cameron risks sending the wrong messages both at home and abroad.

With the future direction of the country uncertain and the army in power, too much celebration or friendliness from the PM could be interpreted by the countries interim leaders as an endorsement of their regime. It would also horrify the protestors of Tahrir Square who see their transition to a new government as being only part complete.

Yet a failure to acknowledge the profound changes that have begun in Egypt would be equally damaging. There is much fear among Middle East reformers that the US and UK would much prefer the old guard - stable dictatorships who supported the 'war on terror'. Too much tight-lippedness from the PM would have failed to give credit where it is due and might be seen across the wider region as an endorsement of the current regimes.

One option would have been for Cameron simply to have missed out on visiting Egypt altogether. But this would have been seen as dodging the issue and would have been taken by both sides as a failure to recognise their cause.

UPDATE - My take on the press comments made by the PM in Egypt is that he handled himself about as well as he could have in the circumstances. But the key is whether the comments match what he said in behind closed doors meetings.

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