Rome, 9 March. (AKI) - Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, is expected to have an audience with the Pope in the Vatican next Monday, at the end of a brief European tour. Mubarak arrived in Rome on Thursday on the first leg of a tour of European capitals that includes Berlin and Vienna. He was meeting prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, foreign minister Gianfranco Fini and Italy's president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi for talks focusing on developments in the Middle East, the stalled peace process and international terrorism.
The Vatican visit has been penned in for next week as Pope Benedict XVI suspended audiences this week because he is involved in spiritual exercises at the start of the Catholic Church's solemn pre-Easter season of Lent.
The Egyptian president is reported to consider the meeting with the Pope as very important, especially in relation to efforts to foster dialogue between different faiths.
I like that last line. I would assume that Mr. Mubarak is going to learn all about the Catholic position on reciprocity by Islamic states.
Mubarak is a smart guy who's been hanging onto power in Egypt ever since Sadat was assassinated. His government has walked a fine line in keeping the citizenry happy by allowing rampant anti-semitism while Mubarak struts around the international stage doing his best to portray Egypt as a partner for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The economy is propped up (as usual) by the United States, which has since 1979 provided on average $2.2 billion per year.
Whether or not Egypt can have any meaningful reform remains to be seen. While Mubarak has eased up and allowed multi-candidate elections for president (he won last time around), most observers believe that the minute free and fair elections on a large scale are held, the Muslim Brotherhood would be given control by the people.