US Embassy Cables: POLITICAL ACTIVISTS SUGGEST CHANGE
Ref ID: 09CAIRO1977
Date: 2009-10-19 08:03
Origin: Embassy Cairo
DE RUEHEG #1977/01 2920803
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 190803Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3907
INFO RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L CAIRO 001977
NEA/ELA FOR SHAMPAINE AND PINA
NSC FOR KUMAR
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/07/2019
TAGS: PREL PGOV KDEM PHUM EG
SUBJECT: EGYPT: POLITICAL ACTIVISTS SUGGEST CHANGE
UNLIKELY TO COME IN ELECTIONS, URGE CONTINUE U.S. PRESSURE
AND ADVOCATE FOR “TRANSITIONAL GOVERNMENT.”
REF: CAIRO 1140
Classified By: Ambassador Margaret Scobey for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (C) Key Points
— Political activists at an Ambassador-hosted lunch were pessimistic that the upcoming elections would offer opportunities for real change.
— Most agreed that voter apathy and low voter turnout in previous elections can be explained by the absence of a “political culture,” pressure from security services, and a lack of confidence that either the NDP or the opposition could effect needed change.
— One participant advocated an opposition boycott to send the message the election process is flawed. Several called for international monitoring. Others advocated for a caretaker government that would lead the transition to democracy.
— The group reflected the general perception that U.S. support for democracy in Egypt has waned. Several participants urged that the U.S. avoid the impression of support for Gamal Mubarak’s succession to the presidency, suggesting any signal would be read as an explicit endorsement.
2. (C) Comment: General pessimism, sometimes veering into cynicism, about the upcoming election season and complaints about possible U.S. support for Gamal Mubarak’s succession are common themes of our engagement with political activists in this context and others. Many are nostalgic for the political opening of 2005 and suggest GoE efforts since then have successfully closed some of that political space. End Comment.
3. (C) Ambassador hosted a lunch October 4 with representatives from opposition political parties, academics and journalists. Visiting National Security Council Senior Director for Global Engagement Pradeep Ramamurthy also joined the lunch. Discussions focused on the state of internal political affairs and the upcoming national election cycle. Participants expressed pessimism that the 2010 parliamentary and 2011 presidential elections present an opportunity for real change. A frequent public commentator on internal political issues and foreign affairs, Dr. Hassan Nafaa, said prospects for change were constrained by recent amendments to the constitution that reduced the role of the judiciary and “tailored” presidential candidate qualifications to fit Gamal Mubarak. He added that lack of accountability within the current system along with the GoE’s control over the election process hampers internal watchdog efforts.
4. (C) Journalist and human rights activist Hisham Kassem said police scrutiny limits the public’s interest in politics and strips the opposition of its technocrats who fear the effects of their participation on their livelihood. What remains are those who are defiant in the face of these tactics along with those whose politics are limited to “Down with Mubarak” slogans. Kassem also said without a real “political system,” power is concentrated within a presidency that often leaves the population guessing about its intentions. The state should be pushed to lift its pressure on the opposition and expand freedom of the press. Dr. Hossam Eissa, member of the Nasserite Party and Law Professor at Ain Shams University went further, calling all opposition political parties, including his own, “part of the regime.” He advocated for an opposition boycott of the elections as the best way to send a message that the elections are not truly competitive.
5. (C) Many noted the lack of a political culture. According to a nephew of the former president, Anwar Esmat El-Sadat,
(Note: A former NDP MP, Sadat now leads an NGO and the currently unregistered Reform and Development Party. End
Note.) the lack of a political culture is exacerbated by pressure from the regime and opposition infighting. He called for international observers to help “protect our votes.” Editor of &Democracy8 Magazine (published by the Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies) Hala Mustapha called for a “revival of social and political dialogue.”
6. (C) Some suggested a “transitional period” was needed to develop that culture and implement needed reforms. Osama Al Ghazali Harb, former NDP member, leader of the opposition Democratic Front Party and editor of the “Siyassa Dawliyya” (or Foreign Affairs) Magazine published by the Al Ahram Foundation, said that because Egypt lacks a real political system it needs a transitional period to “build it from scratch.” Dr. Eissa said Egypt’s history suggests that change comes from within government and not as a result of external pressure from civil society. He called for a two
year transitional government led by a respected political outsider like Mohammed El Baradei.
7. (C) Participants expressed concern about U.S. democracy promotion efforts and cautioned against support for succession. Osama El Ghazali Harb noted the perception that U.S. support for political activists had waned and told the Ambassador U.S. support for democratization efforts remains critical. This he said includes avoiding the appearance of supporting Gamal Mubarak. Dr. Eissa said he and others had been very concerned about the possibility of a meeting between Gamal Mubarak and President Obama while in Cairo, something they would have seen as an explicit sign of support. Dr. Nafaa also suggested to the Ambassador that the U.S. avoid the appearance of supporting Gamal Mubarak. He added that the U.S. should understand that if Gamal becomes president, it is because he was “imposed not elected.”
8. (C) The Ambassador reiterated throughout the lunch that the current administration had not diminished its concern for democracy promotion, that a non-confrontational approach did not mean that the U.S. had abandoned advocacy, and that funding for civil society continued. The Ambassador also stressed repeatedly that the U.S. would not take a position on who would be the next president of Egypt, but that we would continue to encourage a free, fair, and transparent electoral process.