Cablegate: Engaging Ayman Nour
DE RUEHEG #1857/01 2701445
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 271445Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3711
INFO RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L CAIRO 001857
FOR NEA/ELA AND DRL/NESCA
NSC FOR KUMAR
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/24/2019
TAGS: PREL PGOV KDEM PHUM EG
SUBJECT: ENGAGING AYMAN NOUR
REF: CAIRO 00393
Classified By: Ambassador Margaret Scobey for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1.(C) Key Points: -- The Ambassador met with Ayman Nour on September 24 for the first time following his February 2009 release from prison. During the meeting Nour acknowledged the importance of U.S. support during his detention. -- Nour indicated he wished to travel to the U.S. in November, noting coordination with U.S. NGOs including Freedom House on his schedule. Nour's visa application is under review. -- While not ruling out his own candidacy for president in 2011, Nour did not expect restrictions on his participation would be removed and added that he was focused on rebuilding his party. -- Nour said he is focusing his sights on the 2017 elections rather than 2011 in part because time would be needed to "rebuild" his party. -- Nour noted the desire for change among average Egyptians was strong and warned of three "dangers": the appeal of the Islamist alternative in the absence of a "civilian" presidential candidate; possible unrest following Gamal Mubarak's succession that could lead to a military coup or increased Islamist influence; lack of U.S. "interference" in the elections would be seen as lack of interest in the welfare of Egyptians.
2.(C) Comment: Despite earlier concerns about meeting with U.S. officials, Nour appeared eager to engage with the Ambassador on his political future, his expectations for upcoming elections and the role that the U.S. can play in promoting democracy in Egypt. While Nour made some comments about government interference in his April trip to Europe and his warm welcome at a soccer match in Mahallah in which he claimed those present began shouting his name followed by "Down with Mubarak!," Nour's comments were thoughtful and free of the hyperbole he has become known for. Since his release, Nour has continued to pursue a high profile political role for himself but has been criticized in the media for his efforts to regain the limelight. Privately, several former Nour confidantes, including XXXXXXXXXXXX have commented that his public statements have damaged him and have been frustrated that their advice to Nour to keep a lower profile has been ignored. This additional dose of reality may be the reason Nour has decided to focus his personal aspirations on 2017. Nour's dire predictions about a strong public reaction to Gamal or the possibility of a military coup are views not widely held by other Embassy contacts. End Comment.
3.(C) On September 24, opposition leader and former president of the Al-Ghad party Ayman Nour sat down with the Ambassador for the first time following his release on February 19, 2009. In his initial meeting with PolOff two weeks after his release (reftel) Nour suggested that he wanted to "put some distance" between himself and the U.S. While Embassy Cairo has kept in regular contact with leadership of the Nour wing of the Al-Ghad party, Nour has only recently indicated that he is receptive to meetings with U.S. representatives. Nour thanked the Ambassador for her statements before Congress and acknowledged the importance of U.S. support during his detention. Nour credited his early release to external pressure from "supporters of freedom" and the change in the U.S. administration. Nour noted that despite government limitations, he remained politically active, leading a "door-knock" mission to more than 20 governorates in which he met with the people to discuss their concerns and Al Ghad's platform. Nour said he was barred from running for office for five years. He called the restriction politically motivated and not legally required, and said he has initiated a legal case to over-turn limits placed on him. ----------------------- Nour Travel to the U.S. -----------------------
4.(C) Nour raised with the Ambassador his intention to travel to the U.S. for about 10 days in mid-November, but said that he did not yet have a specific schedule. (Note: Nour submitted a visa request and was interviewed by the Consul General on September 24 following his meeting with the Ambassador. Processing is underway, but visa issuance requires a waiver due to Nour's conviction. Following his conviction he must also apply for an exit permit from the GoE before travelling. End Note) Nour first relayed his desire to travel to the U.S. at an August 29 meeting with members of a StaffDel from the House Foreign Relations Committee, Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights. We understand that he intends to travel with members of the April 6th movement, specifically Ahmed Salah.
5.(C) Nour told the Ambassador that while in the U.S. he would be participating in a conference on human rights in the Middle East in mid-November that would include other participants from Iran and Kuwait, but was unable to name the U.S. NGO that was the conference sponsor. Nour also said Freedom House would be arranging at least some of his meetings in Washington. Nour expects to remain in the U.S. for ten days after a short trip to Europe and will meet with government officials, members of Congress, think tank and NGO representatives as well as Egyptians living in the U.S. to discuss human rights in Egypt. His current plans also include a trip to Canada to attend the executive committee meeting of Liberal International (LI), at which the international federation of liberal parties would officially accept the Al Ghad party's application for membership. Nour added that LI will hold its annual congress in Alexandria, Egypt on October 29. (Note: The event is being sponsored by Osama Al Ghazali Harb's Democratic Front Party, already an LI member. End Note.) ----------------- Nour on Elections -----------------
6.(C) When asked for his views on the upcoming 2010 parliamentary and 2011 presidential elections, Nour said that his focus was not on this but the next election cycle. Nour added that not only were the restrictions on his own candidacy a reason for that shift in focus, but that his party needed four to five years to get back on its feet. He suggested that the coming elections would only rearrange power within the regime and were not likely to be an opportunity for real democratic opening. Nour later told PolOff that if he was allowed to be a candidate in 2011 he would run. He added that he expected that in a "fifty-percent fair" election against Gamal, he would win handily, but said that because of President Mubarak's popularity with the military and security services he would have only marginal success if running against Mubarak Sr.
7.(C) Nour suggested that the limited likelihood of real change in the 2011 elections coupled with the desire for democratic transition from the Egyptian "street" would lead to three principal "dangers" for Egypt that were of mutual concern. The first is the impact of the lack of a real "civilian" or secular alternative to the current regime. While Nour saw himself filling this role, he suggested the regime's continued lack of openness to participation by secular opposition created a vacuum that might only be filled by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Second, Gamal Mubarak's succession would likely bring with it unrest because, according to Nour, Gamal lacks any real popular support. Nour suggested that rejection of Gamal by the public could usher in either a military coup or increased Islamist influence. Third, lack of international pressure on democratic progress would be read as lack of interest and lead to some kind of public resentment and questioning of U.S. motives. Nour underlined that the environment is not the same as it was in 2005 where average citizens (as well as the opposition) rejected the idea of international monitoring or U.S. "interference" in internal Egyptian affairs. International monitors were now being demanded. --------------------------------------- Nour on NDP Reformers and MB Popularity ---------------------------------------
8.(C) When asked about reformers within the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), Nour acknowledged figures like Shura Council member Hossam Badrawi and said he did not doubt their reformist agenda or liberal credentials, but called them powerless to implement those reforms. Fundamentally, Nour said Egypt remains a police state and policy is more likely to be implemented by the local police than liberal members of the ruling party. According to Nour, the old guard remains in power and although the presence of reformists in the NDP was a cause for optimism, the regime remains a closed system. When pressed on the real extent of the influence and power wielded by the MB, Nour suggested that many voters in MB strongholds were not true supporters of MB ideals. Votes for the MB in 2005 had to a large extent been a protest against the regime. Nour added that his party was having some success in attracting MB supporters who were more "moderate." Scobey