Former U.S. ambassador to Turkey under fire at Cairo university

A former U.S. ambassador to Turkey is facing a revolt at the prestigious university he oversees in Egypt after giving the U.S. Secretary of State a platform to side with the region’s autocrats, the New York Times reported.

On Tuesday, the senate of the American University in Cairo voted overwhelmingly to declare “no confidence” in Francis Ricciardone, a former ambassador to Egypt, Turkey and the Philippines and Palau.

The academics said they had lost faith in Ricciardone and urged the university’s New York-based board of trustees to begin the search for a successor, according to the Times.

Their grievances against Ricciardone, who has been the university’s leader since 2016, predate the speech by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month. In a letter to Ricciardone, faculty members had complained of low morale, issues with his management, contract grievances and possible discrimination.

“Those tensions exploded into the open after Mr. Pompeo’s speech, in which he criticised President Barack Obama’s Middle East policies, emphasised his own Christian beliefs and offered warm support to harsh autocrats like President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt,” said the Times. “Academics were outraged at being given no say in running the event.”

The American Embassy put together the guest list, so only selected faculty members could attend, and Pompeo took no questions after his remarks. The university no longer receives much financial support from the United States government, as it did in the 1960s and 70s, said the Times.

An email to Ricciardone from Pascale Ghazaleh, chair of the university’s history department, was widely circulated on email and Facebook. “Were any of the members of our community consulted as to whether it was a good idea to bring a former C.I.A. director who has spoken in favour of torture to A.U.C.?” she wrote.

In an email to the university’s staff after Tuesday’s vote, Ricciardone said the no-confidence resolution was unfortunate, but said he respected the faculty’s views and expected to lead the university through this year as it celebrates its 100th anniversary, the Times reported.

Several academics told the Times they distrusted Ricciardone’s background as a diplomat and viewed his management style as more suited to an embassy than a university.

Ricciardone has often been an outspoken figure. Within weeks of resigning as ambassador to Turkey in 2014, he revealed that U.S. officials had spoken to Ankara about its support for extremist rebels in Syria.
“We said, ‘Yes, sure, OK, but a number of the groups that you’re working with, which you consider open to persuasion, we consider beyond the pale,’” Ricciardone told the Atlantic Council. “‘We will not work with them, and we’d rather you not work with them and we think they need to be blocked from transiting your borders.’”

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