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Egypt will follow U.S. legal process with 'Blind Sheikh,' ambassador says

| Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, 8:13 p.m.
Egypt's Ambassador to the United States Mohamed M. Tawfik talks to the Tribune-Review during an exclusive interview at the Duquesne Club in downtown Pittsburgh on Thursday, February 28, 2013. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
An Egyptian anti-government activist wearing a pink mouse mask prepares to do the 'Harlem Shake' as a crowd watches in front of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Cairo on Thursday evening, February 28, 2013. Four Egyptian students who were taking part in another 'Harlem Shake' video recently were arrested for committing 'a scandalous act.' Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review

Egyptian officials paid a consular visit to the “Blind Sheikh,” Omar Abdel Rahman, in federal prison in North Carolina within the past two months but have not formally requested his transfer out of America, the country's ambassador to the United States told the Tribune-Review on Thursday.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy has said he will work for the transfer of the Muslim cleric serving a life sentence for his role in plotting terrorist attacks, including the bombing 20 years ago this week of the World Trade Center in New York. But Ambassador Mohamed M. Tawfik said Morsy will follow a legal process rather than a political one.

“He understands that this is an issue that should be dealt with through legal channels,” Tawfik said. “This is not a political issue between Egypt and the United States. … It would depend on what the U.S. law says.”

Tawfik added that Rahman, 74, who is being held in Butner Federal Medical Center, is in “good shape.”

Tawfik spoke to the Trib in the Duquesne Club, Downtown, during only his second solo visit — after New York — to an American city since assuming his post in September.

The American Middle East Institute is hosting Tawfik's visit, which is expected to include an event Friday with University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and an invitation-only luncheon in the Duquesne Club. The Pittsburgh-based institute advocates for economic partnerships with the Middle East.

“We believe creating these kinds of business partnerships is a very stabilizing force and is a really important kind of diplomacy,” said Simin Yazdgerdi Curtis, president of the institute. “This visit is to open some doors, introduce Ambassador Tawfik to our community and perhaps whet his appetite about what is going on here.”

Egypt, the most populous Arab state and a longtime U.S. ally, is facing its most serious political and economic problems since its revolution two years ago. The nation is deeply divided between ruling Islamists, led by Morsy of the Muslim Brotherhood, and political liberals.

Because of growing anger against the Obama administration for perceived support of the Muslim Brotherhood, opposition leaders have refused to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry on his first official visit to Egypt on Saturday. Liberals, instead, plan to protest the visit.

Tawfik, who had a long foreign service career under ousted President Hosni Mubarak, said the almost-daily protests throughout Egypt are the result of a “lively democratic process.” He said the country should settle down after parliamentary elections, scheduled to begin April 22.

He condemned a spate of sexual attacks on women in Egypt, saying the country is trying to crack down on the attackers and that the victims should never be blamed for the assaults.

Egypt must — and will — do more to protect its antiquities from being stolen, the ambassador said.

The Trib's Middle East correspondent Betsy Hiel has reported about the brazen looting of Egypt's historical treasures, saying police who abandoned their posts during the revolution remain disorganized. Critics have accused Egypt's Islamist government of caring little for the treasures, which are usually taken by armed thieves.

Andrew Conte is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.He can be reached at 412-320-7835 or andrewconte@tribweb.com.

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