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Cablegate: Egypt: Smear Puts Muslim Brothers On the Defensive

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 CAIRO 002877

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/13/2015
TAGS: KISL PGOV PREL EG
SUBJECT: EGYPT: SMEAR PUTS MUSLIM BROTHERS ON THE DEFENSIVE

REF: A. CAIRO 2516
B. CAIRO 2433
C. CAIRO 1509
D. CAIRO 1413
E. 04 CAIRO 8353

Classified by A/DCM Michael Corbin for reasons 1.4 (b) and
(d).

-------
Summary
-------

1. (C) Enemies of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood have seized on
an erroneous report as an opportunity to attack the group as
duplicitous and disloyal. In early April, Egyptian media
began reporting (baseless) rumors that the U.S. and the MB
had covertly opened a channel for dialogue and potential
cooperation, and the matter is still being widely discussed a
week later. The rumours may have been inspired by distorted
reports that the Secretary had signalled a new U.S. attitude
toward Islamists in politics. In a TV appearance, MB Supreme
Guide Mahdy Akef denied reports of contacts with the U.S.,
but was ambushed with barbed questions on various subjects.
The interviewer and (hostile) fellow guests worked to portray
Akef and the MB as hypocritical and unsophisticated - at one
point forcing him to admit he did not know who Bill Gates is.
Separately, the Mufti of the Republic, Egypt's
second-ranking Islamic cleric, warned students that
membership in the MB and other "illegal" groups was a heresy.
New attacks on the MB probably come in reaction the MB
group's recent efforts to reassert itself in the public
political domain. Meanwhile, just because the MB has
recently been victimized by fabricated press reports, there
is no sign it plans to halt its own use of disinformation.
End summary.

---------------------------------------------
Talking to the Americans: The Ultimate Insult
---------------------------------------------

2. (C) A story filed in early April by the Cairo bureau of
the regional Arabic daily Ash-Sharq al-Awsat, and
subsequently repeated by various Egyptian papers, asserted
that Embassy Cairo has made an overture to the Muslim
Brotherhood (MB) seeking to open a channel for dialogue. The
story was written by a journalist with a track record for
writing incorrect pieces about the Embassy, its personnel,
and its activities. The story attracted significant
attention in Cairo salons, with many apparently taking it at
face value, and some speculating that the U.S. was now
undertaking a new strategy of engagement of Islamist groups
like the MB across the Middle East.

3. (C) The attention has apparently been fueled in part by
erroneous rumors circulating in Cairo that Secretary Rice
signalled in a recent interview that the USG is prepared to
deal with Islamist governments in the region, should they
come to power through a democratic process. (Note: The
rumors could be a severe distortion of the Secretary's
comment to the L.A. Times that "Iraqis need to find their own
path to the relationship between Islam and democracy."
Alternatively, they could be a distortion of the Secretary's
statement in her Washington Post interview that "the Middle
East will remain unstable anyway." End note.) According to
a related conspiracy theory that emerged in Cairo, the MB's
March 27 demonstrations, thwarted by massive police
deployments, were prompted by Secretary Rice's "signal" to
Islamist groups in her interview.

4. (C) The independent daily Nahdat Masr added further
credence to the story of an alleged U.S. overture to the MB
by publishing the reactions of a variety of (non-GOE)
political actors, many of whom were indignant and seized on
the story as "evidence" of the MB's treachery.
Representatives of several opposition parties were quoted in
the article giving credence to reports of the U.S. overture
and describing the move as either a tactic by the MB to put
pressure on the GOE or, to quote Dia' Ad-Din Dawood of the
semi-official Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, "the
U.S. is playing various forces like chess pieces, using them
and casting them aside as it suits their interests."

------------
The MB React
------------

5. (C) Reached for comment by the press, MB Deputy Supreme
Guide Mohammed Habib also denied any contacts had been made
and added that, while he did not reject out of hand any
contact with the USG, it would have to be initiated through
the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). Habib's
statement did nothing to shield Supreme Guide Mahdy Akef,
when he faced a series of whithering questions during a
subsequent appearance on Orbit TV, a satellite station
particularly popular in Egypt. Akef was asked, from several
different angles, about new reports of ties between the MB
and the U.S. He repeatedly denied such ties, and insisted
reports of a covert MB-USG meeting were fabricated. He is
insisted that the MB and the U.S. have "fundamental and not
just political differences...what the U.S. is doing in the
region and the Arab world is unbelievable." Asked about
another rumor circulating in Cairo, Akef also denied that the
MB were endorsing the presidential campaign of democracy
advocate Saad Eddin Ibrahim in return for his efforts to
improve the group's standing in Washington.

-----------------------------
And Who is Bill Gates Anyway?
-----------------------------

6. (C) In fact, questions about the alleged U.S. ties to the
MB were probably the least of Akef's worries during his
appearance on Orbit. Early on the show, the interviewer set
him up with several questions clarifying the MB's calls for
transparency in Presidential elections and its support for
term limits. The interviewer then led Akef into explaining
the process by which he was selected Supreme Guide, (by the
15-member Guidance Bureau), acknowledging that details of the
group's by-laws were not public, and conceding that the MB
itself imposed no term-limits on its leadership. Going in
for the kill, the interviewer stated that, in sum, a group
that called for democracy, transparency, and term limits
applied none of these principles to its own governance. Akef
appeared rattled.

7. (C) Later in the program, the interviewer asked Akef if he
knew what "Windows" was and who Bill Gates is. An annoyed
Akef asked, "Is this live? ....Are you trying to show off?"
Akef conceded he knew nothing about either Windows or Bill
Gates but asserted "When I need to know something, I have
hundreds and even thousands of assistants who can provide me
with information on any topic."

--------------
Mufti Slams MB
--------------

8. (C) Separately, in an early April lecture delivered to
students at Al-Azhar University, Dr. Ahmad Gom'a, who, as
Mufti of the Republic, is Egypt's second-ranking Islamic
cleric, warned that membership in the MB and other Islamist
groups constituted a "heresy" and called on the 'Ulema
(Islamic scholars/community leaders) to combat the MB and
other "illegal" groups. In retort, MB Deputy Supreme Guide
Habib said that Gom'a should instead be focused on attacking
corruption and other challenges facing the nation, but added
that the group would not be dragged into a "street fight"
with the Mufti, as they were too busy struggling to advance
political reform.

--------
Why Now?
--------

9. (C) The GOE judges the MB to be the most serious (or
perhaps the only genuine) political threat to the regime.
Harsh coverage of the MB, both in the Egyptian media and in
Cairo salons, is not a new phenomenon, but it is rarely as
concentrated as it has been in the past ten days. The
intensity of the latest round of criticism is probably
attributable to various factors, including an apparent GOE
willingness to believe that the U.S. might actually seek to
open a dialogue with the MB, and in the process confer upon
them international recognition the GOE has long sought to
deny. As noted above, this paranoia has no doubt been fueled
by the false but widely believed rumors that Secretary Rice,
in recent media appearances, has been signaling a new U.S.
willingness to deal with Islamist political groups.

10. (C) The new attacks on the MB come at a time when the
group appears to have been making a conscious effort to
reassert its presence in the public domain, particularly as
its profile has decreased in the public discourse on
President Mubarak's consititutional amendment initiative, a
move designed in part to marginalize Islamists from the
political arena (ref C). The demonstration the MB attempted
to stage on March 27, in uncharacteristic defiance of a
government ban (ref B), is a clear example of this effort, as
is the MB's participation, in recent (small but
well-publicized) demonstrations organized by Kifaya
("Enough"), a protest movement consisting of a broad spectrum
of political elements (ref A). On April 6 and again on April
13, on-campus demonstrations at several universities,
apparently organized by MB youth groups, have added to their
staple anti-Israel and anti-U.S. slogans calls for rescinding
the emergency law, rejecting "inheritance of rule," and "an
end to tyranny."

-----------------------------
A Taste of Their Own Medicine
-----------------------------

11. (C) As a postscript, just because the MB have lately been
defending themselves against fabricated reports does not mean
they themselves refrain from circulating disinformation. In
an April 7 posting on its website, "Ikhwan Online," the MB
assert "the United States has announced that it does not
support the continuation of the rule of President Mubarak and
has also announced that it does not accept his replacement by
his son, Gamal Mubarak." The piece cites "informed Egyptian
diplomatic sources," who also reported that the Mubarak
regime has been disappointed by the cool U.S. reaction to the
President's constitutional reform initiative, "particularly
after a series of concessions to the Zionist bloc aimed at
appeasing the American administration."

Visit Embassy Cairo's Classified Website:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/cairo

You can also access this site through the
State Department's Classified SIPRNET website.

GRAY

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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