Outgoing U.S. Ambassador in Egypt Slams State-Run Newspaper

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The U.S. envoy to Egypt is not pulling punches as she approaches the end of her two-year tenure.

Ambassador Anne Patterson, who was nominated earlier this month to be assistant secretary of state in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, sent a scathing open letter Wednesday to the country’s largest government-run newspaper deriding a story that claimed the ambassador was complicit in efforts to destabilize the country.

“This article isn’t bad journalism; it isn’t journalism at all,” Patterson wrote. “It is fiction, serving only to deliberately misinform the Egyptian public.”

The ambassador was responding to an Aug. 27 article (here, in Arabic) that cites anonymous sources in naming Patterson as the sponsor of an alleged Muslim Brotherhood-led plot to “spread chaos.”

Patterson has been the target of denunciations and conspiracy theories from both sides of Egypt’s political wrangling. The interim military-backed government has demonized Patterson for cooperating with the since-deposed Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi, while Morsi’s Islamist allies rebuke her for failing to respond to the ouster of a democratically-elected president.

Patterson has presumably developed a tough skin over her 40-year career as a diplomat. She served as ambassador to Colombia and to Pakistan—where nearly three-quarters of the population considers America “the enemy”—before arriving in Egypt.

Egypt’s newspapers have a poor record for quality journalism—see the time that Al-Ahram, the recipient of Patterson’s letter, doctored a photo of then-President Mubarak at the White House—but Patterson’s letter marks a shift in tone from the reportedly press-shy, soft-spoken ambassador.

Patterson wrote:

The irresponsibility of this article only serves to further misinform and misguide your readership, and to further raise tensions in an already perilously tense environment… I am particularly disturbed to think that Al Ahram, as the flagship state-run paper in Egypt, is regarded as a representative of the government’s viewpoint.

Observers took to Twitter to remark on the ambassador’s forwardness. Marc Lynch, a Middle East analyst and professor at George Washington University, tweeted:

[tweet https://twitter.com/abuaardvark/status/373126780648816640%5D

From Erin Cunningham,  Global Post’s Middle East editor:

[tweet https://twitter.com/erinmcunningham/status/373116606332686336%5D

Secretary of State John Kerry recommended that Robert Ford replace Patterson, the New York Times reported earlier this month. Ford, the ambassador to Syria until he was recalled in Oct. 2011, must be confirmed by the Senate to assume the post.

See the full letter posted on the embassy’s website.