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Activists Urge US to Raise Human Rights Issue With Egypt

International activists are pressing U.S. President Barack Obama to raise the issue of human rights during Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's visit to Washington, his first in five years. But analysts say the contentious subject is not likely to be at the forefront of U.S.-Egyptian relations, as the United States focuses, instead, on Egypt's role in achieving Mideast peace.

A coalition of Egyptian rights activists descended on Washington, as President Barack Obama sat down with Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak at the White House Tuesday. They brought with them a list of issues they wanted raised during talks, including Egypt's emergency law that has been in place for nearly three decades.

That law has been roundly criticized as giving Egyptian authorities the green light to arbitrarily detain scores of activists, bloggers and opposition members and convict them in unfair trials.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim is a longtime Egyptian dissident. He says President Mubarak has exploited the threat of Muslim extremism and terrorism to justify his sweeping powers under emergency law.

"This pathological fear of the Islamists, and therefore you hang and suspend democracy human rights, this is all politics, and we are against it," said Ibrahim.

Ibrahim joined other democracy activists at the National Press Club in Washington this week to press President Obama and President Mubarak for political change in Egypt. They want the state of emergency to be lifted before parliamentary elections next year, and presidential elections in 2011.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised Egypt's rights record with President Mubarak during talks Monday. He called the issue an ongoing source of concern to the United States.

"We would like to see Egypt embark on a path to expand political dialogue in its country, expand political participating in the Egyptian political process," said Crowley.

The state department spokesman says human rights and democratic reform will continue to be raised in further discussions between the U.S. and Egypt. But former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Near Eastern Affairs) Edward Walker says the subject will likely be addressed less publicly.

"These aren't issues that are forgotten, but I don't expect the administration to make it a major point of confrontation," he said.

Still, Saad Eddin Ibrahim and other activists say they hold out hope that President Obama's promise to support democracy and the rule of law throughout the world, will be put into action in Egypt.