US embassy cables: Kifaya leader George Is’haq met with US Embassy Officials in 2009
CAN KIFAYA REGAIN LOST MOMENTUM?
Ref ID: 09CAIRO2308
Date: 12/17/2009 12:41
Origin: Embassy Cairo
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION
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E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/14/2019
TAGS: PREL, PGOV, KDEM, PHUM, EG
SUBJECT: EGYPT: CAN KIFAYA REGAIN LOST MOMENTUM?
REF: A. CAIRO 2279 B. 05 CAIRO 1413 C. 05 CAIRO 5274 D. 06 CAIRO 2493
Classified By: Minister-Counselor for Economic and Political Affairs Donald A. Blome, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
— (SBU) Kifaya celebrated its five-year anniversary with a December 12 protest on the steps of the Cairo Appeals Court.
— (C) While the turnout was lower than announced by movement leaders, supporters see the protest as a sign that Kifaya still plays an important role in pressuring for political reform and an end to the Mubarak presidency.
— (C) Kifaya members have endorsed political reforms recently outlined by former IAEA Chair El Baradei. Kifaya’s current Coordinator Qandil has called for boycott if those conditions are not met.
2.(C) Comment: Mohammed El Baradei’s comments have helped to energize, at least for the moment, the efforts of protest movements like Kifaya. However, these groups have struggled to gain traction more broadly with the Egyptian public. There is little evidence that Kifaya’s essentially liberal and constitutional message has had wide resonance among a deeply cynical Egyptian street more concerned with bread and butter issues. Perhaps recognizing this reality, some of these groups, including Kifaya, have begun turning to a simpler “anyone but Gamal” message that they hope better captures the public mood. End Comment.
3.(C) Egypt’s Kifaya (or “Enough” movement, also known as the Egyptian Movement for Change) staged a protest in front of the Cairo Appeals Court on December 12 to mark the five-year anniversary of the movement’s first protest on those same steps in 2004. Egyptian media report that several hundred participated in the demonstrations. One Kifaya contact told PolOff numbers reached 200. However, separately an Embassy contact present at the demonstration said there were no more than 100 present and that they included “plainclothes security and the media.” Kifaya is best known for staging public demonstrations in the lead-up to the 2005 elections and its effort to rally support for judges critical of those elections in 2006. Several Kifaya members told the private daily Al Shorouk they see the current protest as evidence of Kifaya’s resurgence. Kifaya leader George Is’haq told PolOff the December 12 protest will be the first of many Kifaya-organized demonstrations in the lead-up to the 2010 parliamentary and 2011 presidential elections.
“Egypt is not a Family Farm”
4.(C) Kifaya remains a loosely organized group of opposition politicians and political activists from a variety of ideological perspectives, from leftists to Islamists. Many credit Kifaya with breaking taboos against public criticism of President Mubarak. Since its start in 2004, Kifaya has advocated an end to the Mubarak presidency, condemned possible hereditary transfer of power to his son Gamal, and criticized the role of the security services and the culture of corruption they believe Mubarak’s leadership has fostered. During a Kifaya-led demonstration on May 25, 2005, organized to mark the referendum on constitutional reforms (which the group still criticizes as “tailor made” for Gamal’s succession), members were attacked by what were believed to be pro-ruling party thugs. The resulting international and domestic reaction allowed for additional protests in the lead up to Egypt’s 2005 elections without the same kind of government interference (Ref C). Kifaya also led thousands in May 2006 protests critical of GoE disciplinary action against two leaders of the Judge’s Club “revolt” that followed the 2005 elections. The judges were accused of slander after revealing details of fraud and malfeasance in judicial monitoring of the 2005 elections (Ref D).
Antipathy to U.S. Remains
5.(C) Throughout its history, Kifaya has also continued to be strongly critical of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, and rejects Egyptian normalization with Israel (Ref B). As a result, official USG contact with Kifaya has been limited. Members of the movement boycotted President Obama’s June 2009 speech in Cairo. Long-time Kifaya leader George Is’haq (protect), now active in a variety of other CAIRO 00002308 002 OF 002 election-related coalitions, met with Embassy Officials for the first time in July 2009. Kifaya members have been openly critical of others who deal with foreign governments, particularly the U.S. Following the announcement that he intended to travel to the United States, Ayman Nour, also a Kifaya member, met vocal criticism from current Kifaya Coordinator and editor of the Nasserist newspaper Al-Arabi, Abdel Halim Qandil.
Return to Relevance?
6.(C) Kifaya’s “reemergence” follows a lull in activity explained in part by internal conflict after the death of its Coordinator Dr. Abdel Wahab El Messiri in the summer of 2008. El Messiri (a former member of both the Egyptian Communist Party and the Muslim Brotherhood) replaced George Is’haq in 2007. Is’haq had stepped down after Islamists announced they would quit the movement following the posting of an anti-veil article on the group’s website. (Note: Is’haq told PolOff no MB members of Kifaya attended the recent demonstrations. End Note) Unlike its seminal role in 2005, Kifaya has now become one of many opposition voices. The recent proliferation of several overlapping coalitions opposing presidential succession and pressing for free and fair elections has also diluted its impact. Many of these movements are populated by Kifaya members and it has become difficult to distinguish one “coalition” and its goals from the other. Kifaya also has links to the “April 6” movement, which shares many of its goals.
Coordinator Says Kifaya May Call for a Boycott
7.(C) Is’haq called recent statements by Mohammed El Baradei “good news” (Ref A). Other Kifaya leaders have also publically welcomed Mohammed El Baradei’s call for constitutional amendments that echo their own demands. Current Kifaya Coordinator Abdel Halim Qandil (elected by the group in January 2009) told the media he would call for a boycott of the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections if El Baradei’s “conditions,” which include key constitutional reforms, were not met. Is’haq told PolOff Kifaya will be looking to lead the creation of a new umbrella organization for the various groups advocating reform. On December 12, Kifaya member and Egyptians for Free Elections spokesperson independent MP Gamal Zahran called for the creation of “The National Movement for a New Egypt,” to “mobilize the people” and “amend the constitution.” Zahran also confirmed Egyptians for Free Elections support for the conditions set by Baradei.
Some Change in Leadership Expected
8.(C) Is’haq said the group’s annual elections will take place in January and he expects leftist intellectual Ahmed Bahaa Shaaban will take over. Shaaban is not currently part of the rotating four-man leadership (with one “Coordinator” acting as the group’s spokesperson) that heads the group, but is one of its “founding fathers” and the committee of 66 core members that must endorse any position taken by the group. Funding for the group’s activities comes from its members.