The aftershock from the earthquake that has shaken the Arab world reached Washington Tuesday night, much to the chagrin of guests who gathered at the Egyptian embassy for the annual National Day celebration. Unlike last year, this week’s festivities were dry.

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Instead of wine or beer, we were offered our choice of soft drinks or the Egyptian specialty of karkade – a tasty hibiscus infusion, but certainly not the social and political lubricant that a reporter looking for good off-the-record info wants to see the surrounding diplomats and State Department officials drinking.

An embassy official at the reception told me the decision was made once the new parliament came into power. That puts the Egyptians in line with the Saudis and Qataris, who also don’t serve the hard stuff.  

Also gone were the heaping plates of Egyptians specialties, another blow to someone who had shown up on an empty stomach with images of last year’s dishes dancing in her head. There were still plentiful supplies of hors-d’oeuvres like grape leaves and falafel balls, but there''s definitely now an opening for Israel to overtake Egypt in the food game. (I wrote here about Israel’s poor food offerings at embassy events.)

Some guests chalked up the trimmings to lack of money (a suggestion seconded by the drip that emerged in the middle of the reception room after a torrential rainstorm started pouring down on the thin, transparent reception room roof). But others speculated that it was a message to America that the new president Mohamed Mursi wasn’t as interested in currying favor with Washington and playing by its rules. If that assessment seems waspish, recall that those doing this whispering had been denied alcohol and might have been hungry to boot.

- Hilary Leila Krieger  

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