The White House has reportedly withdrawn its initial choice to be the U.S. ambassador to Egypt after objections were raised by representatives of the military regime in Cairo.
Foreign Policy reported late Monday that Robert S. Ford was pulled from consideration after members of the Egyptian government indicated that they did not want Ford in the job due to his stated willingness to negotiate with some of Syria's Islamist militants and political groups.
Ford, a career diplomat fluent in Arabic, has served as U.S. ambassador to Syria since December 2010, just before the bloody civil war in that country began. He was recalled in October 2011 and currently serves as the Obama administration's primary liason to Syria's rebels. He previously served as ambassador to Algeria between 2006 and 2008. He was recommended for the Egypt post by Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this year.
The bulk of Ford's work since his recall from Damascus has been attempting to persuade Syrian rebel leaders to take part in peace talks scheduled to begin in Geneva next month. Representatives of the Cairo military regime, which ousted President Mohammed Morsi in a coup this past July, were reportedly concerned that Ford could make similar links with Islamists in Egypt.
"This is a man who is literally willing to sit across the table from Islamists who are worse than the Muslim Brotherhood, so it's baffling the White House would think he's the right person to go to Egypt," an Arab diplomat told Foreign Policy. "He is a good man, but he's absolutely the wrong person for this job, at least right now."
Ford's would-be predecessor, Anne Patterson, came under similar suspicion from the government of General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi for appearing to be too close to the ousted Muslim Brotherhood leaders.
Soon after Ford's recommendation, a Canadian website alleged that Ford ran death squads out of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad when he served as political counselor there between 2004 and 2006. The allegation made its way to Twitter and was reprinted in Egyptian newspapers, sparking an outcry.