Cablegate: Shake-Up Rumored in Egyptian Pro-Government Press

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




E.O. 12958: N/A


Sensitive but unclassified. Please protect accordingly.

1. (SBU) Summary: An unprecedented "correction" in the
pro-government Al Ahram newspaper has sparked a tense
stand-off between ruling National Democratic Party (NDP)
Secretary General Safwat El Sherif and pro-government Al

Ahram Editor-in-chief Ibrahim Nafei. The correction to a
report on a Kuwait news interview with President Mubarak
came at the request of the presidency, which reportedly
objected to the inclusion of two statements -- one
concerning the Muslim Brotherhood and one concerning heir-
apparent Gamal Mubarak. Since the May 15 correction was
printed (reftel), rumors have circulated that Sherif has
threatened "big changes" in the pro-government press.
Sherif's threat may be an attempt to keep the pro-
government media in line ahead of this fall's elections.
End Summary.

2. (SBU) At the reported request of the presidency, Al
Ahram printed on May 15 an unprecedented "correction" on
its report of President Mubarak's interview with Kuwaiti
daily Al Siyassa. The newspaper backed away from two
comments it had reported as made by President Mubarak
during the interview: 1) that Mubarak was "awake" to
alleged USG-Muslim Brotherhood (MB) dialogue and 2) that
his son Gamal, "like an Egyptian citizen," could now run
for president. Mohammed Basha, a managing editor at Al
Ahram, told a PA officer that palace officials were anxious
about Mubarak's comments on USG-MB dialogue, given that PM
Nazif was in the U.S. at the time, and feared that the
comment about Gamal implied Mubarak's endorsement of his
son for the presidency.

3. (SBU) According to a Ministry of Information official,
the Al Ahram "correction" was not the newspaper's fault,
but rather the result of "sloppy performance by the new
Minister of Information." Basha backed up this opinion
when he told a PA officer that Al Ahram never received the
interview's text through official channels, and so, with a
deadline approaching, the newspaper simply took the text of
the interview from Al Siyassa's website. The alternative -
- not reporting on the President's interview -- was not an

4. (SBU) Basha blamed the bureaucratic snafu on the
failure of Minister of Information Anas El Fekki to appoint
a Director of the State Information Service, who would
normally be in charge of presidential interviews. "If
someone had been in charge of the President's interviews,
then none of this would have happened," stated Basha. "But
Al Ahram was blamed -- not the government!" (Note: El
Fekki appointed Nasser Ahmed Kamel as Director of the State
Information Service on May 20. Kamel, a career ambassador
who served in Washington with former FM Ahmed Maher, worked
as the head of the African bureau at MFA before assuming
his new position. End note.)

5. (SBU) According to several press contacts, Al Ahram
Editor-in-chief Ibrahim Nafei (Note: Nafei has been a
close confident of and widely-considered mouthpiece for
Mubarak. End note) criticized El Fekki, following the Al
Ahram "correction," in private for being "inexperienced and
unreliable." Formerly the Minister of Youth and Sport, El
Fekki was named Minister of Information February 2005 after
a six-month tenure by Mamdouh El Beltagui. NDP Secretary
General Safwat El Sherif had been the long-running Minister
of Information until July 2004, and he sponsored and
supported El Fekki as the new Minister of Information.

6. (SBU) Upon hearing Nafei's comments, Sherif fired back
publicly in criticism aimed at the "gray-haired old guard"
in political parties and the national press who were
"against reform." Nafei then responded indirectly in a
column on May 24, writing that "dialogue is better than bad

7. (SBU) This back and forth between Sherif and Nafei has
sparked rumors within press circles that "big changes"
would come to the pro-government newspapers -- a threat
reportedly made privately by Sherif himself. However, a
palace official reported to PA FSN on May 26 that "it would
be illogical to change horses during the race," implying
that with elections coming up later this year, it was not
the time for a shake-up of the government press. Likewise,
an editor with pro-government October magazine
(circulation: 25,000), Mohamed Al Masry, who works closely
with NDP members of Parliament, reported to PA FSN on May
26 that changes would likely come after the elections.
"Some people have long memories," stated Al Masry.

8. (SBU) Comment: Sherif's reported threat of reprisals
against a media giant such as Ibrahim Nafei was likely
meant as a warning to all pro-government newspaper editors
to follow the party line leading up to this year's
elections -- or else. Sherif's threat might also be
personal, directed against Nafei himself, given Nafei's
questioning of Sherif protege El Fekki's ability. End


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