Tuesday, August 6, 2013

 

Egypt rages against likely U.S. Ambassador on Twitter

A U.S. news report that Robert Ford, former top US envoy to Syria, is being considered as Washington’s next ambassador to Egypt has sparked a vitriolic Twitter campaign against his nomination.

A little over two years ago, on July 8 2011, a convoy carrying the then U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford made its way through army checkpoints to the besieged city of Hama, then the centre of protests against the rule of the Assad regime.

The surprise visit was seen as the first concrete sign of US support for the Syrian opposition.

It sparked a furious response from the government but won the ambassador hero status in the eyes of the opposition and, as he arrived in Hama, protesters were seen greeting Ford with flowers and olive branches.

But these days, the veteran U.S. diplomat is being showered with invective and diatribe – on Twitter.

The latest social media campaign against Ford was sparked by media reports over the weekend that US Secretary of State John Kerry had recommended the former envoy to Syria as the next US ambassador to Egypt.

But a number of Egyptians on Twitter were having none of it.

Within hours, hashtags such as #NoToRobertFord in English and in Arabic, “We refuse the American ambassador to Egypt,” appeared on the microblogging site.

“The new sponsor of terrorism in Egypt,” tweeted one user, referring to the US career diplomat. Another warned, “Watch out Ford, if you come to Cairo .. You won't be an ambassador .. You will b a target”.

Conspiracies fuel reactions and more conspiracies

The Twitter campaign followed the publication of a post on a Canadian conspiracy website, accusing Ford of running “death squads” in Iraq, where he was political counsellor to the US embassy in Baghdad between 2004 and 2006.

The website in question, run by the Centre for Research on Globalisation, is known among other things for its scepticism of the official explanation of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the post offered little in the way of evidence to back up its claims.

But this did not stop Egyptian daily, al-Masry al-Youm, from reporting the allegations, without establishing their veracity.

The reports further fanned the flames of suspicion over the US’ intentions in Egypt at a time of intense political instability in the country when even the most unsubstantiated rumours can quickly spark anger and accusations.

The backlash could not come at a worse time for Washington. Anti-US sentiments are running high in the world’s most populous Arab nation and recipient of an annual $1.5 billion in US aid.

Muslim Brotherhood supporters accuse Washington of backing the Tamarod movement, which campaigned for democratically elected Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi’s ouster earlier this year.

On the other hand, Morsi’ opponents are convinced the US is supporting the Brotherhood, while current US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson has turned into a reviled figure in the country.

‘The architect of fitna’ 

In this milieu of mutual suspicions and rising tempers, Ford’s extensive diplomatic experience in the region has turned into a disadvantage instead of an asset.

A fluent Arabic speaker, Ford has also served in Bahrain and Algeria, leading some critics to draw parallels between the US diplomat and civil unrest in the countries he has been posted.

“When Robert Ford enters a country, he brings the shayatin (devils) in,” tweeted one user in Arabic, while another called the US envoy “the architect of fitna” – or upheaval.

Ford has been billed to take over the ambassadorship in Egypt after Patterson was nominated for a senior State Department post last week.

Patterson was appointed ambassador to Egypt in 2011, the year Ford was appointed top US envoy in Damascus. He was withdrawn from Syria in February 2012, after the security situation seriously deteriorated in the war-torn country.

While the New York Times cited unnamed US officials as saying Kerry had recommended Ford for the post, US State Department officials have not officially confirmed the report.

Ford’s appointment would require a recommendation by US President Barack Obama, followed by a Senate approval.

But for critics of the seasoned US diplomat, it’s never too early to express their opprobrium – on Twitter.

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