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Page last updated at 14:03 GMT, Tuesday, 20 May 2008 15:03 UK

Jibes highlight Bush-Mubarak rift

Hosni Mubarak (l) and George Bush in Sharm el-Sheikh (17 May 2008)
Officials from both sides often acknowledge there are disagreements

It has emerged that US President George Bush and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt were studiously absent from each other's speeches at the World Economic Forum in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, as the BBC's Magdi Abdelhadi reports from Cairo.

The pre-conference photo session was cordial enough - but that is where the niceties ended.

Both leaders' speeches contained strong criticism of the other. And it appears neither wanted to be present as the other spoke.

Mr Bush's sarcastic remarks about Arab politics were clearly offensive to the Egyptians, as well as to other Arab officials.

He said that "too often in the Middle East, politics has consisted of one leader in power and the opposition in jail".

Mr Mubarak has been in power for nearly three decades and many of his political opponents are in prison.

Reference to Iraq

In his speech, Mr Mubarak said the imposition of democracy from abroad could only bring chaos and instability.

The bulk of Mr Bush's speech was about the lack of political reform in Arab societies

That was obviously a reference to Mr Bush's troubles in Iraq, used frequently by Arab rulers to rebuff Washington's pressure to allow for greater political participation.

Mr Mubarak also sought to dispel the right-wing neo-con American doctrine that lack of democracy breeds terrorism.

He said the main cause of instability in the region was the unresolved conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

While these disagreements are not in themselves new, the insistence of both men to highlight them in an international venue, in front of world cameras, shows the extent of the rift between them.

President 'on way out'

Officials from both sides often acknowledge that there are disagreements, but that the two countries share common strategic interests.

However, the bulk of Mr Bush's speech was about the lack of political reform in Arab societies.

It reflected the president's frustration with Arab rulers who not only resist his freedom agenda, but are also reluctant to endorse his tough stance against Iran.

It is now obvious that Arab autocrats have weathered the storms of the Bush era and that they can afford to ignore him, knowing that he has only a few months left in office.

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