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Mubarak’s son slips into Washington

Mubarak’s son slips into Washington

While his father hosted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Sharm el-Sheikh resort on the tip of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula earlier this week, Gamal Mubarak quietly slipped into Washington for a “private visit,” multiple sources have told Foreign Policy.

The younger Mubarak, who is widely thought by Egypt hands to be positioning himself to succeed his father, prefers to keep a low profile on his trips to the United States. In comments paraphrased by Al-Masry al-Youm, an independent daily newspaper in Cairo, Gamal said he would “participate in seminars on the global financial crisis and its impact on Egypt and the region, and … meet with research centers and congressmen to know their vision regarding the Middle East and the future of the Egyptian-American relations.”

But according to one source familiar with Gamal’s visit, the unofficial purpose is likely to “take the temperature” in Washington ahead of his father’s rumored trip to D.C. later this spring. A spokesman for the Egyptian Embassy in Washington said he had no information to share about either visit.

The Egyptian government recently released Ayman Nour, a populist politician who made a surprising showing in the 2005 presidential elections and was arrested soon afterward for allegedly forging signatures on his party’s application documents.

The Bush administration had repeatedly called for Nour’s release to no avail, causing some tension in the U.S.-Egypt relationship. In December 2007, Congress voted to withhold $100 million in aid to the Egyptian military, although then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice later waived it through.

Gamal is an extremely controversial figure in Egypt, given his increasing role in politics and the uncertainty surrounding who will succeed his 80-year-old father, who has ruled Egypt since assuming the presidency after Anwar Sadat’s assassination in October 1981.

Yesterday, the Center for Strategic and International Studies hosted Gamal for a small, off-the-record meeting. A Middle East expert who attended the gathering said he offered “nothing different” than he has in the past — anodyne comments about the “tremendous effort” Egypt is making in enacting economic and political reforms.

Today, Gamal is slated to meet with Sen. John Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Howard Berman, Kerry’s counterpart in the House, sources told The Cable. Committee spokespeople did not immediately respond to queries.

A Washington pro-democracy hand said Gamal’s trip has two purposes. First, trying to lobby Congress against any sort of conditionality or earmarking in appropriations of U.S. aid to Egypt. Second, he is also trying to feel out different audiences to get a sense of what kind of reception his father will receive when he comes next month. “This is the month where the Arab world sees what the Obama administration approach to human rights and democratic reform in the Middle East will be,” he said.  

Tomorrow, the younger Mubarak heads to New York for a small, invite-only meeting with members of the Council on Foreign Relations.

UPDATE: Rep. Berman (D-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement, “I had a wide-ranging talk with Gamal Mubarak, whom I’ve met previously. I don’t want to go into the substance of a private meeting, but I can say that Mr. Mubarak is highly intelligent and fully conversant in the issues affecting U.S.-Egyptian relations and Middle East peace. He is a strong and sensible advocate of Middle East peace and of close cooperation with the United States.”   

Blake Hounshell contributed reporting.

FILE PHOTO: KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images