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Cablegate: Saddam in a Cage; Sectarian Strife in Alexandria:

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 008137

SIPDIS

NEA/PD FOR FRANK FINVER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KPAO KMDR OPRC IZ SY EG
SUBJECT: SADDAM IN A CAGE; SECTARIAN STRIFE IN ALEXANDRIA:
EGYPTIAN MEDIA THEMES, OCTOBER 17 TO 23

REF: CAIRO 7987

1. Summary: While the Egyptian media covered the opening
of Saddam Husseins trial extensively, there was little
commentary. One opposition commentator decried the trial
as "illegitimate, partial, and subordinate to the American
occupiers." Violence between Muslims and Christians in
Alexandria on October 21 received front page coverage on
October 23, with reports claiming three dead and over a
hundred injured. In the aftermath, the media reported on
October 23 a plea for tolerance and friendship by Pope
Shenouda and Sheikh Tantawi. Several commentators and one
popular Egyptian cartoonist pointed the finger of blame for
the violence at a "foreign conspiracy." Most commentators
condemned the UNs Mehlis report, with daily newspaper Al-
Ahram writing that its findings were "circumstantial
evidence." Al-Gomhouriya, a pro-government daily critical
of the U.S., claimed the Mehlis report was a result of
"Americas hostile schemes in the Middle East." November
parliamentary elections were also covered throughout the
week. However, few commentators expressed much hope in the
elections. "In Egypt there are no elections, only
celebrations and fanfare," wrote one opposition editor.
End summary.

2. Saddams trial: Egyptian TV (ETV) news coverage on
October 18 and 19 centered on Saddams "not guilty" plea on
the opening day of his trial. ETV's News Channel played
the trial live on October 18. The Egyptian print press led
with images of Saddam at the trial on October 19
accompanied by headlines such as "Saddam Challenges
President of Court, Refuses to Recognize Courts Legality;
ity;
and Insists He Is President of Iraq" (Al-Ahram) and "Saddam
and His Men in the Cage (i.e., the docket)" (Al-Akhbar).
Noteworthy was the paucity of commentary on the trial,
given the amount of media coverage it generated. An
opposition Al-Wafd (circulation: 50,000) commentator
consistently critical of the U.S. described Saddam's trial
on October 22 as "illegitimate, partial, and subordinate to
the American occupiers" and concluded that "President Bush
and his wicked advisors should stand trial instead."

3. Sectarian strife in Alexandria: On October 23,
independent newspapers Al-Masry Al-Youm (circulation:
25,000) and Nahdet Masr (circulation: 25,000) both
published front-page images and reports of violence between
Coptic Christians and Muslims in Alexandria, with the
former reporting 3 deaths and 143 injuries after clashes on
October 21 over a controversial DVD of a Coptic play that
Muslim demonstrators accused of defaming Islam (reftel).
All newspapers reported on a joint statement by Coptic Pope
Shenouda and Al-Azhar Sheikh Tantawi that called for
tolerance and friendship between Muslims and Copts.
Channel Ones program Milaff Khass ("Special File") hosted
several guests on October 22 who discussed the clashes.
The chairman of Al-Azhars "Religious Dialog Committee"
called for dialog to solve tensions and criticized the
media and Copts who live in the U.S. for overreacting.
Channel Ones popular program Al-Bayt Baytak ("Make
Yourself at Home") also hosted several guests on October 22
to discuss the violence in Alexandria. Guest Adel Hamouda,
editor of independent weekly Al-Fagr (circulation: 50,000),
blamed pan-Arab satellite channels for inflaming sectarian
divisions in the region. Another guest, a religious
sheikh, blamed a "foreign conspiracy" for the increase of
tensions between Muslims and Copts in Egypt. A popular
back page cartoon in pro-government Al-Akhbar (circulation:
n:
800,000) on October 23 showed a uniformed security official
on the beach standing before a snake, whose body spells out
the words "sectarian strife," and saying into his cell
phone, "Its clear, sir, that its coming from abroad."

4. Why is everybody picking on Syria?: On October 22, the
day after the Mehlis report's release, all major newspapers
and TV news coverage reported that the report had
implicated Syrian and Lebanese government officials in
Rafik Hariri's murder. A commentary in Al-Wafd on October
21, written before the report's release, claimed that the
U.S. and its allies were "trying to force Syria to accept a
deal in which Syria would control its borders to prevent
insurgents going into Iraq." On October 22, an unsigned
editorial in pro-government daily Al-Ahram (circulation:
750,000) claimed that the Mehlis report was "the start of a
new and serious chapter against Syria by the U.S. and
France." The Al-Ahram editorial also claimed that the
e
report "includes only circumstantial evidence." However, a
commentator writing in the same issue opined that the
report "is so detailed to be beyond the shadow of a doubt."
Pro-government daily Al-Gomhouriya (circulation: 500,000) -
and a harsh critic of the U.S. published an unsigned
editorial on October 22 that claimed the Mehlis report was
"not surprising, because the results were known beforehand
to anyone who is aware of Americas hostile schemes in the
Middle East." Former Al-Gomhouriya Editor-in-chief Samir
Ragab wrote in the same issue that the Mehlis report was
"part of a U.S. scheme to drive a wedge between Syria and
Lebanon, then assassinate Hariri, then force Syria to
withdraw from Lebanon, then issue this report all in
order to pave the way for future events."

5. November parliamentary elections: The media continued
to highlight developments on November's parliamentary
elections. Al-Masry Al-Youm and Al-Wafd reported on
on
October 21 that more than 1,000 members of Al-Wafd Party,
the Kifaya Movement, and the Muslim Brotherhood took part
in an October 19 demonstration in Cairo in support of an
opposition list of parliamentary candidates. Commentators
in the opposition and independent press were critical of
the elections. "Do not pin your hopes on the parliamentary
elections," warned Abdel Halim Qandil, Editor-in-chief of
opposition, Nasserite Al-Arabi (circulation: 20,000), on
October 20. "In Egypt there are no elections, only
celebrations and fanfare," Qandil continued. The Editor of
independent weekly Sawt Al-Umma (circulation: 50,000) wrote
on October 17 that "there is nothing new in the upcoming
elections the same corruption, oppression, and forgery
from the NDP." Sounding a note of optimism, however, was
Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, quoted on October 20 in
English-language Al-Ahram Weekly as saying, "November's
parliamentary elections have the potential to become a
watershed in the nation's political life... I believe a new
era is dawning, one in which normalcy will be restored and
the state of emergency ended."

RICCIARDONE

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