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Cablegate: Egypt: Political Activists Suggest Change

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DE RUEHEG #1977/01 2920803
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 190803Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3907
INFO RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L CAIRO 001977

SIPDIS

NEA/ELA FOR SHAMPAINE AND PINA
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E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/07/2019
TAGS: PREL PGOV KDEM PHUM EG
SUBJECT: EGYPT: POLITICAL ACTIVISTS SUGGEST CHANGE
UNLIKELY TO COME IN ELECTIONS, URGE CONTINUE U.S. PRESSURE
AND ADVOCATE FOR "TRANSITIONAL GOVERNMENT."

REF: CAIRO 1140

Classified By: Ambassador Margaret Scobey for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) Key Points

-- Political activists at an Ambassador-hosted lunch were
pessimistic that the upcoming elections would offer
opportunities for real change.

-- Most agreed that voter apathy and low voter turnout in
previous elections can be explained by the absence of a
"political culture," pressure from security services, and a
lack of confidence that either the NDP or the opposition
could effect needed change.

-- One participant advocated an opposition boycott to send
the message the election process is flawed. Several called
for international monitoring. Others advocated for a
caretaker government that would lead the transition to
democracy.

-- The group reflected the general perception that U.S.
support for democracy in Egypt has waned. Several
participants urged that the U.S. avoid the impression of
support for Gamal Mubarak's succession to the presidency,
suggesting any signal would be read as an explicit
endorsement.

2. (C) Comment: General pessimism, sometimes veering into
cynicism, about the upcoming election season and complaints
about possible U.S. support for Gamal Mubarak's succession
are common themes of our engagement with political activists
in this context and others. Many are nostalgic for the
political opening of 2005 and suggest GoE efforts since then
have successfully closed some of that political space. End
Comment.

3. (C) Ambassador hosted a lunch October 4 with
representatives from opposition political parties, academics
and journalists. Visiting National Security Council Senior
Director for Global Engagement Pradeep Ramamurthy also joined
the lunch. Discussions focused on the state of internal
political affairs and the upcoming national election cycle.
Participants expressed pessimism that the 2010 parliamentary
and 2011 presidential elections present an opportunity for
real change. A frequent public commentator on internal
political issues and foreign affairs, Dr. Hassan Nafaa, said
prospects for change were constrained by recent amendments to
the constitution that reduced the role of the judiciary and
"tailored" presidential candidate qualifications to fit Gamal
Mubarak. He added that lack of accountability within the
current system along with the GoE's control over the election
process hampers internal watchdog efforts.

4. (C) Journalist and human rights activist Hisham Kassem
said police scrutiny limits the public's interest in politics
and strips the opposition of its technocrats who fear the
effects of their participation on their livelihood. What
remains are those who are defiant in the face of these
tactics along with those whose politics are limited to "Down
with Mubarak" slogans. Kassem also said without a real
"political system," power is concentrated within a presidency
that often leaves the population guessing about its
intentions. The state should be pushed to lift its pressure
on the opposition and expand freedom of the press. Dr.
Hossam Eissa, member of the Nasserite Party and Law Professor
at Ain Shams University went further, calling all opposition
political parties, including his own, "part of the regime."
He advocated for an opposition boycott of the elections as
the best way to send a message that the elections are not
truly competitive.

5. (C) Many noted the lack of a political culture. According
to a nephew of the former president, Anwar Esmat El-Sadat,
(Note: A former NDP MP, Sadat now leads an NGO and the
currently unregistered Reform and Development Party. End
Note.) the lack of a political culture is exacerbated by
pressure from the regime and opposition infighting. He
called for international observers to help "protect our
votes." Editor of &Democracy8 Magazine (published by the
Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies) Hala Mustapha called
for a "revival of social and political dialogue."

6. (C) Some suggested a "transitional period" was needed to
develop that culture and implement needed reforms. Osama Al
Ghazali Harb, former NDP member, leader of the opposition
Democratic Front Party and editor of the "Siyassa Dawliyya"
(or Foreign Affairs) Magazine published by the Al Ahram
Foundation, said that because Egypt lacks a real political
system it needs a transitional period to "build it from
scratch." Dr. Eissa said Egypt's history suggests that
change comes from within government and not as a result of
external pressure from civil society. He called for a two
year transitional government led by a respected political
outsider like Mohammed El Baradei.

7. (C) Participants expressed concern about U.S. democracy
promotion efforts and cautioned against support for
succession. Osama El Ghazali Harb noted the perception that
U.S. support for political activists had waned and told the
Ambassador U.S. support for democratization efforts remains
critical. This he said includes avoiding the appearance of
supporting Gamal Mubarak. Dr. Eissa said he and others had
been very concerned about the possibility of a meeting
between Gamal Mubarak and President Obama while in Cairo,
something they would have seen as an explicit sign of
support. Dr. Nafaa also suggested to the Ambassador that the
U.S. avoid the appearance of supporting Gamal Mubarak. He
added that the U.S. should understand that if Gamal becomes
president, it is because he was "imposed not elected."

8. (C) The Ambassador reiterated throughout the lunch that
the current administration had not diminished its concern for
democracy promotion, that a non-confrontational approach did
not mean that the U.S. had abandoned advocacy, and that
funding for civil society continued. The Ambassador also
stressed repeatedly that the U.S. would not take a position
on who would be the next president of Egypt, but that we
would continue to encourage a free, fair, and transparent
electoral process.
Scobey

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