|APRIL 6 ACTIVIST ON REGIME CHANGE EGYPT|
| W.L. 30-09-2009 - 05.02.2011 04:38 |
08CAIRO2572 2008-12-30 09:09 2011-01-31 SECRET Embassy Cairo
DE RUEHEG #2572/01 3650909
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
R 300909Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1233
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 002572
FOR NEA/ELA, R, S/P AND H
NSC FOR PASCUAL AND KUTCHA-HELBLING
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/30/2028
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM EG
SUBJECT: APRIL 6 ACTIVIST ON HIS U.S. VISIT AND REGIME
CHANGE IN EGYPT
REF: A. CAIRO 2462
¶B. CAIRO 2454
¶C. CAIRO 2431
Classified By: ECPO A/Mincouns Catherine Hill-Herndon for reason 1.4 (d).
¶1. (C) Summary and comment: On December 23, April 6 activist XXXXXXXXXXXX expressed satisfaction with his participation in the December 3-5 "Alliance of Youth Movements Summit," and with his subsequent meetings with USG officials, on Capitol Hill, and with think tanks. He described how State Security (SSIS) detained him at the Cairo airport upon his return and confiscated his notes for his summit presentation calling for democratic change in Egypt, and his schedule for his Congressional meetings. XXXXXXXXXXXX contended that the GOE will never undertake significant reform, and therefore, Egyptians need to replace the current regime with a parliamentary democracy. He alleged that several opposition parties and movements have accepted an unwritten plan for democratic transition by 2011; we are doubtful of this claim. XXXXXXXXXXXX said that although SSIS recently released two April 6 activists, it also arrested three additional group members. We have pressed the MFA for the release of these April 6 activists. April 6's stated goal of replacing the current regime with a parliamentary democracy prior to the 2011 presidential elections is highly unrealistic, and is not supported by the mainstream opposition.
End summary and comment.
Satisfaction with the Summit
¶2. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX expressed satisfaction with the December 3-5 "Alliance of Youth Movements Summit" in New York, noting that he was able to meet activists from other countries and outline his movement's goals for democratic change in Egypt. He told us that the other activists at the summit were very supportive, and that some even offered to hold public demonstrations in support of Egyptian democracy in their countries, with XXXXXXXXXXXX as an invited guest. XXXXXXXXXXXX said he discussed with the other activists how April 6 members could more effectively evade harassment and surveillance from SSIS with technical upgrades, such as consistently alternating computer "simcards." However, XXXXXXXXXXXX lamented to us that because most April 6 members do not own computers, this tactic would be impossible to implement. XXXXXXXXXXXX was appreciative of the successful efforts by the Department and the summit organizers to protect his identity at the summit, and told us that his name was never mentioned publicly.
A Cold Welcome Home
¶3. (S) XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that SSIS detained and searched him at the Cairo Airport on December 18 upon his return from the U.S. According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, SSIS found and confiscated two documents in his luggage: notes for his presentation at the summit that described April 6's demands for democratic transition in Egypt, and a schedule of his Capitol Hill meetings. XXXXXXXXXXXX described how the SSIS officer told him that State Security is compiling a file on him, and that the officer's superiors instructed him to file a report on XXXXXXXXXXXX's most recent activities.
Washington Meetings and April 6 Ideas for Regime Change
¶4. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX described his Washington appointments as positive, saying that on the Hill he met with Rep. Edward Royce, a variety of House staff members, including from the offices of Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep. Wolf (R-VA), and with two Senate staffers. XXXXXXXXXXXX also noted that he met with several think tank members. XXXXXXXXXXXX said that Rep. Wolf's office invited him to speak at a late January Congressional hearing on House Resolution 1303 regarding religious and political freedom in Egypt. XXXXXXXXXXXX told us he is interested in attending, but conceded he is unsure whether he will have the funds to make the trip. He indicated to us that he has not been focusing on his work as a "fixer" for journalists, due to his preoccupation with his U.S. trip.
¶5. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX described how he tried to convince his Washington interlocutors that the USG should pressure the GOE to implement significant reforms by threatening to reveal information about GOE officials' alleged "illegal" off-shore bank accounts. He hoped that the U.S. and the international community would freeze these bank accounts, like the accounts of Zimbabwean President Mugabe's confidantes. XXXXXXXXXXXX said he wants to convince the USG that Mubarak is worse than Mugabe and that the GOE will never accept democratic reform. XXXXXXXXXXXX asserted that Mubarak derives his legitimacy from U.S. support, and therefore charged the U.S. with "being responsible" for Mubarak's "crimes." He accused NGOs working on political and economic reform of living in a "fantasy world," and not recognizing that Mubarak -- "the head of the snake" -- must step aside to enable democracy to take root.
¶6. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX claimed that several opposition forces -- including the Wafd, Nasserite, Karama and Tagammu parties, and the Muslim Brotherhood, Kifaya, and Revolutionary Socialist movements -- have agreed to support an unwritten plan for a transition to a parliamentary democracy, involving a weakened presidency and an empowered prime minister and parliament, before the scheduled 2011 presidential elections (ref C). According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, the opposition is interested in receiving support from the army and the police for a transitional government prior to the 2011 elections. XXXXXXXXXXXX asserted that this plan is so sensitive it cannot be written down. (Comment: We have no information to corroborate that these parties and movements have agreed to the unrealistic plan XXXXXXXXXXXX has outlined. Per ref C, XXXXXXXXXXXX previously told us that this plan was publicly available on the internet. End comment.)
¶7. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX said that the GOE has recently been cracking down on the April 6 movement by arresting its members. XXXXXXXXXXXX noted that although SSIS had released XXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXX "in the past few days," it had arrested three other members. (Note: On December 14, we pressed the MFA for the release of XXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXX, and on December 28 we asked the MFA for the GOE to release the additional three activists. End note.) XXXXXXXXXXXX conceded that April 6 has no feasible plans for future activities. The group would like to call for another strike on April 6, 2009, but realizes this would be "impossible" due to SSIS interference, XXXXXXXXXXXX said. He lamented that the GOE has driven the group's leadership underground, and that one of its leaders, Ahmed Maher, has been in hiding for the past week.
¶8. (C) Comment: XXXXXXXXXXXX offered no roadmap of concrete steps toward April 6's highly unrealistic goal of replacing the current regime with a parliamentary democracy prior to the
2011 presidential elections. Most opposition parties and independent NGOs work toward achieving tangible, incremental reform within the current political context, even if they may be pessimistic about their chances of success. XXXXXXXXXXXX's wholesale rejection of such an approach places him outside this mainstream of opposition politicians and activists.
|MAHALLA RIOTS 2008: ISOLATED INCIDENT OR?|
| W.L. 16-04-2008 - 05.02.2011 05:16 |
08CAIRO783 2008-04-16 10:10 2011-02-01 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Cairo
Appears in these articles:
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHEG #0783/01 1071041
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 161041Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8946
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 000783
NSC FOR PASCUAL
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/14/2018
TAGS: PREL PGOV KDEM PHUM EG
SUBJECT: MAHALLA RIOTS: ISOLATED INCIDENT OR TIP OF AN
REF: A. CAIRO 621
¶B. CAIRO 697
¶C. CAIRO 715
¶D. CAIRO 724
¶E. CAIRO 730
Classified By: DCM Stuart E. Jones, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
¶1. (C) Summary: Egyptians are uneasy about the April 6 and 7 anti-government riots in Mahalla, which featured thousands of unemployed youth battling riot police in the streets of the Nile Delta mill-town (refs B-D). The violent demonstrations followed on an opposition-organized general strike on April 6, which noticeably quieted Cairo's busy streets, as many Egyptians stayed home, many out of fear of potential public disorder, and some in solidarity with the strike (ref B). The Mahalla riots have both reflected and fed into resentment about spiraling food prices and widespread anger at the government. Egyptians are in a sour mood, and their frustration seems more vocal than just a few months ago. The government is paying close attention, and is now focused on heading off a follow-on national strike called for May 4, Mubarak's eightieth birthday. End summary.
HEROES OR HOOLIGANS?
¶2. (C) Reaction to the Mahalla clashes seems divided along class lines. The lower-income Egyptians we spoke with expressed enthusiasm about the riots, with two independently telling us they were "ecstatic" at the news. Many said, "the government deserved it." They all attributed the riots to sharply increased food prices. Year-on-year inflation in March reached 14.4 percent; food-only inflation for March reached 22 percent. Many Egyptians acknowledge that the fundamental unspoken Egyptians social pact -- the peoples' obeisance in exchange for a modest but government-guaranteed standard of living -- is under stress, and the poor feel this most acutely. One worker remarked: "it is the people's right (to strike), if their government lies to them, tells them that food prices are stable, but then we go try to buy oil or bread, and cannot afford it." A cab driver told us, "God willing, such riots will occur in Cairo soon; the only thing stopping us is fear."
¶3. (C) Elites appear anxious. On April 6, many parents of private school children kept their children home. The private German School was reportedly half empty. Referring to Mahalla, a textile factory owner told us, "The poor are desperate, and this is a natural result of that. We may see more riots, and we will definitely see more crime in Cairo; it is already happening; the poor have to resort to stealing." Meanwhile, Cairo's limited middle class seems stuck in between - a reflexive fear of chaos feeds their worries of riots, but seems nearly equaled by their admiration of the Mahalla protesters for "giving the government what it deserves," as one shop-owner told us.
IS THIS THE START OF SOMETHING?
¶4. (C) The key question is, will the localized incident in Mahalla spark a wider movement? The government is clearly focused on containing unrest. Even while the riots were still winding down, PM Nazif traveled to Mahalla, paid bonuses to factory workers and praised those who did not join in the riots (ref D). The government has also accelerated arrests of activists in Cairo (ref E). The organizers of the April 6 strike -- distinct from Mahalla -- have already called, via Facebook, for a follow-on national strike on May 4, Mubarak's eightieth birthday. Even regime insiders have acknowledged the political savvy behind this tactic -- channeling current outrage towards the next big event. The GOE responded with a press release announcing that President Mubarak will give a May 5 speech to "underline Egypt's keen to desire to protect the rights of laborers and accentuate the role they can play in the development process .... and to reiterate the government's commitment to safeguard the interests of workers against any backlashes they might face as a result of the economic reform program." More broadly, the government continues to address the shortage of subsidized bread by using military bakeries and distribution centers, and bread lines in Cairo seem to have diminished.
¶5. (C) The government's concern is driven by recent events, but likely also by worried looks in the rear-view mirror. Egyptians are renowned for their apathy in the face of trying conditions. Nevertheless, 1952's "Black Saturday," when many foreign-affiliated establishments in Cairo were burned to the ground; the January 1977 bread riots, when tens of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets nationwide in anti-government riots precipitated by the government's planned cancellation of food subsidies; and the February 1986 riots of the Central Security Forces, protesting a rumored extension of their term of service, resulting in hundreds of deaths nationwide, and USD millions in damage, all demonstrate that even supposedly quiescent Egyptians have their limits.
¶6. (C) While there are currently no angry demonstrators on the streets of Cairo, the situation is more tense than even a few months ago. Widespread bitterness about spiraling prices, seething upset about government corruption, disdain for the Mubarak government's perceived pro-US and Israel posture, and working class economic woes (ref A) bubble up in virtually every conversation. It is not clear how the next catalyst for action -- if there is one -- might materialize. Neither the Mahalla rioters nor the April 6 group have charismatic, clearly identified leadership. It is significant that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), now suffering under the arrests of thousands of arrests of its members, distanced itself from both of "movements." Egypt's omnipresent security apparatus is also a strong counter-balance to riots and demonstrations. We think it is possible that Egypt will witness further spasms of limited violence, but these are likely to be isolated and uncoordinated, rather than revolutionary in nature.
¶7. (C) Although not on the scale of the 1977 or 1986 riots, Mahalla is significant. The violent protests demonstrated that it is possible to tear down a poster of Mubarak and stomp on it, to shout obscene anti-regime slogans, to burn a minibus and hurl rocks at riot police. These are unfamiliar images that lower-income Egyptians thrill to. In Mahalla, a new organic opposition force bubbled to the surface, defying current political labels, and apparently not affiliated with the MB. This may require the government to change its script.
¶8. (C) April 6 brought together disparate opposition forces together with numerous non-activist Egyptians, with the Facebook calls for a strike attracting 70,000 people on-line, and garnering widespread national attention. The nexus of the upper and middle-class Facebook users, and their poorer counterparts in the factories of Mahalla, created a new dynamic. One senior insider mused, "Who could have imagined that a few kids on the internet could foment a buzz that the entire country noticed? I wish we could do that in the National Democratic Party."
¶9. (C) Another result of Mahalla is that Mubarak will even more strongly resist both economic and political reform initiatives. Six months ago, economic cabinet ministers openly discussed phasing out food and fuel subsidies in favor of transfer payments to the very poor. That initiative now seems to be off the table. We are also hearing that unrest over prices has strengthened the security ministers in the cabinet in resisting privatization and other efforts towards liberalization. The riots introduce a new dynamic for us as well. Under these stressful conditions, Mubarak and his regime will be even more sensitive to US criticism over human rights abuses and democracy shortfalls. On April 15, Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit, meeting with the Ambassador, cited the Mahalla incident as a strain and added that he hoped that the United States would be supportive of Egypt during this difficult period.