Cablegate: Egypt's Press Syndicate Elections

DE RUEHEG #2302/01 3491546
P 151546Z DEC 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 002302



E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/15/2029

REF: 07 CAIRO 3299

Classified By: Economic-Political Minister-Counselor Donald A. Blome for reason 1.4 (d).
1.Key Points: -- (SBU) Incumbent Egyptian Press Syndicate Chairman Makram Mohamed Ahmed, the pro-government editor-in-chief of a state-owned magazine, defeated independent candidate Diaa Rashwan and was re-elected to a second two year term in a December 13 run-off election. -- (SBU) Despite complaints by Rashwan, an analyst at the GoE-funded Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, that editors of pro-government newspapers influenced the election by pressuring employees to vote for Ahmed, the election appears to have been generally fair.

2. (C) Comment: While Ahmed clearly was the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and GoE's preferred candidate, the GoE appears to have done little or nothing to interfere in this relatively competitive election. In contrast, immediately before the 2007 Press Syndicate election, the GoE awarded a pay increase to journalists working for state-owned publications, a tactic that local analysts believe ensured Ahmed's victory, as he was perceived as "delivering" the pay raise (reftel A). In this year's election, Press Syndicate members, generally low-paid journalists writing for licensed government and independent news outlets, appear to have been persuaded that Ahmed was best positioned - because of his close ties to the GoE - to continue to address their economic concerns. Rashwan also may have lost support, especially among his core constituency of younger journalist writing for independent newspapers, after engaging in what some syndicate members viewed as an unseemly celebration following his near victory in the first round of voting. End comment. -------------------------------- Press Syndicate Election Results --------------------------------

3. (SBU) Egypt's Press Syndicate, a 5500-member organization, held a first round of elections on December 6 with Ahmed receiving 1497 votes and Rashwan 1458. Other candidates received a combined total of approximately 100 votes. Because no candidate received an absolute majority, the Press Syndicate held the December 13 run-off, with Ahmed winning with 2419 votes to Rashwan's 1561. Observers attributed the increased turn-out for the run-off election largely to growing interest in what syndicate members realized was a competitive race. Ahmed will remain in office for a second two year term. (Note: Members of the Press Syndicate's 12-person board of directors serve four-year terms, with the next election scheduled for 2011. End note.) -------------------------- A Generally Fair Election --------------------------

4. (C) Sharif Khilaly, who leads a civil society organization focused on the political process in Egypt's syndicates and trade unions, told us that Rashwan, who he described as an independent with Nasserist sympathies, and not an Islamist despite his professional focus on the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), had substantial support from younger journalists. According to Khilaly, the "new generation" of journalists, especially those writing for independent newspapers, view the 74 year-old Ahmed as a pro-government dinosaur and were inclined to support Rashwan. As the election approached, however, Khilaly believes Ahmed was able to convince many that he would be more effective in advancing syndicate members' economic interests. Khilaly also said that Ahmed ran a more sophisticated and technologically advanced campaign. Khilaly said that while his organization, which monitored the election, received two complaints of improper influence on voters (including an unverified allegation that some editors-in chief asked employees to take pictures of their completed ballots), his overall assessment is that the election was fair and reflects the will of syndicate members.

5. (U) Shortly after the syndicate announced election results, respected journalist, television talk show host, and Al Ghad party co-founder Ahmed Al Messlemany praised the election as "as good as it gets," a "real election," and wished "all Egyptian elections could be like the Press Syndicate's." Al Messlamany attributed Ahmed's victory to a superior campaign and a perception that Rashwan had MB ties. CAIRO 00002302 002 OF 002 Scobey

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