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Egypt Skeptically Awaits Powell's Arrival - 2002-04-07

Secretary of State Colin Powell arrives in Egypt Tuesday for meetings with President Mubarak regarding the Palestinian-Israeli crisis. Egyptian political analysts are saying the secretary's visit will be viewed as a failure unless he meets with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and obtains an immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from the occupied territories.

Suspicion and skepticism are the words being used most often by political analysts in Egypt regarding the Powell visit.

Having witnessed peace intiatives put forth by former Senate George Mitchell and CIA Director George Tenet, along with shuttle diplomacy by Anthony Zinni, a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney, a land-for-peace proposal adopted by the Arab League, and visits by members of the European Union seeking a truce, many experts say the Arab world has become almost immune to the idea there will ever be peace.

Abdullah el Ashaal is an expert on Arab affairs who lectures at several universities in Cairo. He says people on the street and officials in Arab governments are very suspicious of Mr. Powell's mission to the region.

Mr. el Ashaal says they believe the visit may be intended to give Israel more time to complete its military operations in the occupied territories. "The whole impression in the area is that Mr. Powell is coming to support Israel," he said. "It is losing credibility, so I am afraid this behavior on the part of the super power is very dangerous."

There has been no indication from the State Department that Mr. Powell intends to do anything other than attempt to re-start the peace process.

According to Hassan Nafae, who heads the political science department at Cairo University, to achieve credibility in the region Mr. Powell must not delay meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. "I think they will react negatively unless Powell decides to see Arafat and to change the American policy," Mr. Nafae cautioned. "If Powell delays his visit to the occupied territories he will give the very wrong message that he gave the green light to Sharon to finish his job until he decides to meet Arafat. This will be very, very, very badly seen here in the Arab world," he added, "not only in the streets, but also within the Arab official regimes."

Mr. Powell says under the right circumstances it would be useful to meet with the besieged Palestinian leader.

Walid Kazziha teaches political science at American University in Cairo. He says in order to be seen as successful, Mr. Powell's immediate concern must be an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. "He has to supervise the immediate withdrawal of the Israelis," he said. "Anything else is promises in the air. A Palestinian state, the security of that state, the viability of that state, all is nothing today compared to the security and the lives of Palestinians wherever they are in the occupied territories."

Mr. Powell arrives Tuesday in Egypt for a meeting with President Mubarak. His plans call for him to leave the same day for Madrid, then fly to Israel Friday.