Cablegate: Senior Editor Praises President Bush's Signing

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. (U) The new editor-in-chief of the very influential
pro-government news weekly Al Ahram Al Arabi (circulation:
80,000) had high praise for President Bush's signing the
condolence book for victims of the Sharm bombings, at the
Egyptian Embassy. (A color photograph of the same
appeared on the front page of Al Ahram on July 26.) He
said that this was reassuring to the Egyptian people and
the government of Egypt, and indicated he felt that this,
and the recent condolence remarks by Secretary Rice and
clarifications by Deputy Secretary Zoellick on the U.S.
position on the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in
elections, were perceived as a "welcome move away from the
confrontational style" that had developed in the bilateral
relationship ever since the arrest of opposition political
party leader Ayman Nour. He said he hoped that the
momentum of President Bush's gesture would be sustained,
perhaps through the visit of a high-level U.S. official to
Sharm El Sheikh in the near future to express solidarity
with the people of Egypt, and perhaps even to attend a
conference on terrorism. End summary.

--------------------------------------------- -------------
Dr. Abdul Atti Muhammad -- some background information.
--------------------------------------------- -------------

2. (U) The Public Affairs Counselor and Information
Officer paid a courtesy call on Dr. Abdul Atti Muhammad,
the new editor-in-chief of Al Ahram Al Arabi (circulation:
80,000), the influential weekly news "magazine" of the
mainstay, pro-government daily of record, Al Ahram
newspaper (circulation 800,000). Dr. Abdul Atti is one of
several new directors of Egyptian media organizations
announced by the Shoura Council two weeks ago in a shake-
up of the top level of the official Egyptian media
establishment, and is well known to us as a respected Al
Ahram columnist whose views are regarded as "independent"
but not particularly critical of the ruling National
Democratic Party or of the United States. Dr. Abdul Atti
wrote his doctoral dissertation on Islamic fundamentalism.

--------------------------------------------- --------------
President Bush's signing of condolence book was a welcome
gesture of support for Mubarak; seen as antidote to recent
tensions over political liberalization.
--------------------------------------------- --------------

3. (SBU) The Embassy officers began by expressing their
condolences for the Sharm El Sheikh bombings of July 23,
which prompted Dr. Abdul Atti to refer to that day's (July
26) edition of Al Ahram newspaper, the front page of which
bore an above-the-fold color photograph of President and
Mrs. Bush signing the condolence book for victims of the
Sharm bombings, at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington.
Abdul Atti said this gesture was deeply appreciated by the
Egyptian people and government. Elaborating further, he
mentioned that, in his view, Egyptian-American relations
had been strained for many months, especially since the
arrest of Ayman Nour, because the U.S. administration
seemed to be giving Egypt "mixed signals" (i.e., had been
critical) about the direction it should take towards
political liberalization. He indicated that President
Bush's public gesture of sympathy for the victims of the
Sharm bombings was an excellent sign that the bilateral
relationship might have weathered the rough spell, and
that relations were on the mend. He added that he hoped
that a high-level USG official might be able to build on
this momentum by visiting Egypt, particularly Sharm El
Sheikh, in the near future, perhaps as part of symposium
to discuss terrorism, or in some other way demonstrating
solidarity with Egypt in the fight against terrorism.
Emboffs mentioned that the nomination of the new
Ambassador to Egypt had been announced only yesterday.

--------------------------------------------- ------------
Abdul Atti claims Secretary Rice's address at AUC had left
room for misunderstanding about U.S. stance on Islamist
parties' participation; Deputy Secretary Zoellick's recent
news conference in Cairo clarified the point.
--------------------------------------------- -------------

4. (SBU) Abdul Atti went on to say that he thought all of
the U.S. emphasis on "democracy" had made the top
leadership of Egypt feel "let down" by the administration,
and stressed that President Mubarak needed America to
demonstrate its support for his government in a way that
would make it clear to "the street" that America was
solidly behind him. "The Egyptian regime is fragile,"
Abdul Atti said, "and this fragility has been exacerbated
by a series of U.S. statements that 'openly' criticize
it." He averred that Secretary Rice, in her address at
the American University in Cairo, had left room for
Egyptians to believe that the U.S. would not be opposed to
a government that included the religious parties, such as
the Muslim Brotherhood, and that this had given Islamists
a green light to agitate against the regime. Secretary
Rice's mentioning to Foreign Minister Aboul-Gheit, during
his Washington visit, that Ghad party leader Ayman Nour
should be released from detention had also undermined the
image of the regime on the street, and was therefore an
encouragement to Islamists, he said. He did agree,
however, that Deputy Secretary Zoellick's statements at a
recent Embassy-organized press conference in Cairo
emphasizing that participation of the Muslim Brotherhood
in the upcoming elections was an issue that Egyptians had
to resolve themselves, and was not an American "demand,"
had been encouraging.

--------------------------------------------- ------------
A bit of hyperbole: "linking" American pressure on
democracy to Sharm bombings.
--------------------------------------------- ------------

5. (SBU) Abdul Atti linked American "pressure about
political reform" to the Sharm bombings by saying it had
weakened the prestige of the regime to the point that
terrorists had been emboldened to attack it openly.
Spreading the blame more widely (and realistically), he
added that the actions of the Ministry of Interior after
the Taba bombings last March were also to blame for the
Sharm bombings. The security forces had rounded up
bedouin indiscriminately, he said, and had treated them
miserably. He surmised that in retribution, some Sinai
bedouin had given the perpetrators of the bombings
assistance by providing a safe haven in the mountains
surrounding the summer resort of Sharm El Sheikh.

--------------------------------------------- ------------
Appeal for more signs of support from high-level U.S.
--------------------------------------------- ------------

6. (SBU) The conversation concluded with the new editor
appealing for more "indications of support" for the NDP
government from the United States, even if that support
was symbolic, and that it be sustained, and not just be a
"one-off" event such as the President's condolence book
signing. Referring to Secretary Rice's recent statement
of condolence to victims of the Sharm bombings, which had
been distributed as press release by the Embassy and
carried in all papers, he mentioned that Egyptians greatly
appreciated her referring to Egypt as a "friend and ally".
"This and the U.S. President's signing the condolence book
are wonderful gestures of support," Abdul Atti repeated,
"but a timely visit to Sharm by the Secretary of State or
another high-level USG official would be even better." It
would give needed encouragement to President Mubarak, who,
the editor said, is "working alone and would welcome a
convincing demonstration of American support."


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