Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mubarak takes Nour's issue personally, and it makes him seethe when we raise it


S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 CAIRO 000231 
 
NOFORN 
SIPDIS 
 
FOR THE SECRETARY FROM THE AMBASSADOR 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/09/2019 
TAGS: PREL KPAL EG IS QA IR SY
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR REQUESTED  EGYPTIAN FM ABOUL GHEIT 
MEETING WITH THE SECRETARY 
 
Classified By: Ambassador Margaret Scobey 
for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
 
------- 
Summary 
------- 
 
1. (S/NF) Madame Secretary, Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit has 
been looking forward to meeting you since your nomination was 
first announced.  The Egyptian leadership, including 
President Mubarak, are encouraged by the Administration's 
immediate attention to the Middle East and your and the 
President's early outreach to them. Overall, the Egyptians 
believe they did not receive fair treatment from the previous 
Administration and hope to see improvements.  Aboul Gheit 
likely will explain Egypt's "soft power"--its ability to 
influence regional events without benefit of deep pockets. 
He likely will focus more on the strategic challenges of the 
region--the peace process and Iran--but may also address some 
pending bilateral matters.  He may ask for your support for 
Egypt to be part of an expanded G8 or G20 and press the 
candidacy of Egyptian Culture Minister Farouq Hosny for 
Director General of UNESCO.  He may not raise human rights 
(specifically Ayman Nour), political reform, or 
democratization; but you should.  Aboul Gheit will want to 
discuss Gaza, including smuggling and counter-tunneling; 
Iran; and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  On Iraq and 
counter-terrorism, we and the Egyptians see largely 
eye-to-eye; intelligence cooperation is close and effective; 
and our military-to-military relationship is durable but 
stuck in a force-on-force mindset. 
 
2. (S/NF) Summary continued:  Aboul Gheit is smart, urbane, 
with a tendency to lecture and to avoid discussing Egyptian 
failings with all-purpose recourse to Egyptian sovereign 
pride. However, because this is his first meeting with you 
and it is in Washington, he may be more inclined to listen. 
You should thank him for Egypt's continuing regional 
leadership, in particular regarding their efforts to bring 
about a ceasefire in Gaza, and press him for Egypt to 
continue to use their influence and good offices to achieve a 
permanent solution to intra-Palestinian infighting and 
conflict.  You should also stress the need for Egypt to more 
effectively insure that Hamas cannot rearm via smuggling 
across -- or tunneling under -- the border with Gaza.  Aboul 
Gheit will press for your attendance at the March 2 Gaza 
Donors Conference in Cairo, and may complain about unhelpful 
Qatari and Syrian behavior.  He will also want to explore US 
intentions towards Iran; President Mubarak told Senator 
Mitchell during his recent visit here that he did not oppose 
our talking with the Iranians, as long as "you don't believe 
a word they say."  End summary. 
 
------------------------ 
Respect and Appreciation 
------------------------ 
 
3. (S/NF) In terms of regional affairs, Special Middle East 
Envoy Senator George Mitchell struck the right chord during 
his recent visit to Cairo when he told President Mubarak that 
he was here to "listen and hear your advice."  The Egyptians 
have long felt that, at best, we take them for granted; and 
at worst, we deliberately ignore their advice while trying to 
force our point of view on them.  You may wish to thank Aboul 
Gheit for the vital role Egypt played in bringing about a 
ceasefire in Gaza, and its efforts at making it last.  You 
should ask him what the current state of play is between 
Hamas and Fatah and have him describe Egypt's vision of the 
future for the Palestinians, both among their factions, and 
vis a vis Israel.  Note:  Although the Egyptians will react 
well to overtures of respect and appreciation, Egypt is very 
often a stubborn and recalcitrant ally.  In addition, Egypt's 
self-perception as the "indispensable Arab state" is 
contingent on Egyptian effectiveness on regional issues, 
including Sudan, Lebanon, and Iraq. 
 
----------------------------------------- 
Egypt and the Israel-Palestinian Conflict 
----------------------------------------- 
 
4. (S/NF) Although Aboul Gheit was never enthusiastic about 
the Annapolis Peace process, resolution of the 
Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains the primary strategic 
political goal for the Egyptians.  They are proud of their 
role as intermediary, well aware that they are perhaps the 
only player that can talk with us, the Israelis, and all 
Palestinian factions.  Mubarak hates Hamas, and considers 
them the same as Egypt's own Muslim Brotherhood, which he 
sees as his own most dangerous political threat.  Since the 
 
CAIRO 00000231  002 OF 004 
 
 
June 2007 Hamas takeover of Gaza, the Egyptians, under the 
leadership of intelligence chief Omar Soliman (the de facto 
national security advisor with direct responsibility for the 
Israeli-Palestinian account) have shifted their focus to 
intra-Palestinian reconciliation and establishment of the 
Hamas-Israel ceasefire.  Soliman brokered a half-year-long 
truce last year, which Hamas broke in December, leading to 
the Israeli invasion of Gaza.  He has recently re-started 
those efforts, with the goal of getting Hamas to agree to a 
year-long ceasefire, which should give the Egyptians space to 
bring about their political goal of Palestinian 
reconciliation under a technocratic, non-partisan government 
headed by President Mahmoud Abbas. 
 
---------------- 
Gaza and Tunnels 
---------------- 
 
5. (S/NF) Smuggling through the Sinai Peninsula and into Gaza 
is an old and complicated problem for Egypt.  Egypt views a 
well-armed and powerful Hamas as a national security threat, 
a point driven home in dramatic fashion by the January 2008 
border breach when Hamas bulldozed the old border fence and 
more than half a million Palestinians poured into Egypt, 
unchecked and hungry.  Since the closure of the Egypt-Gaza 
border following the June 2007 Gaza takeover by Hamas, most 
smuggling of consumer goods and weapons has gone underground. 
 The narrow corridor between Egypt and Gaza is as 
honey-combed with subterranean passageways as a gigantic ant 
colony. 
 
6. (S/NF) Although it is not directly in Aboul Gheit's 
bailiwick, belonging more to the security and intelligence 
forces, nonetheless the issue of tunnels and rearming Hamas 
is the subject of intense scrutiny (by Israel and the 
Congress), and sensitivity (by the Egyptians).  Long 
criticized by Israel for "not doing enough" to halt arms 
smuggling via tunnels, the Egyptians have stopped complaining 
and started acting.  Egypt has increased efforts to counter 
arms smuggling by accelerating its $23 million FMF-funded 
tunnel detection program along the Egypt-Gaza border and 
requesting U.S. support to purchase four backscatter X-Ray 
machines to scan vehicles entering the Sinai for weapons and 
explosives (note Aboul Ghait may not be of this 
EGIS-originated request).  Egypt also continues to cooperate 
with Israel, especially via intelligence sharing, to prevent 
militants from Hamas and other extremist organizations from 
crossing the Gaza border, and on thwarting militant activity 
in Egypt. Egyptian efforts are all justified under President 
Mubarak's pledge that Egypt with "protect its borders." 
 
7. (S/NF) Egypt will not take any action that could be 
perceived as collaboration in Israel's siege of Gaza, and 
they have been hyper-sensitive to any suggestion that 
foreigners are assisting them or overseeing their efforts to 
counter smuggling. Aboul Gheit publicly distanced Egypt from 
our January MOU with Israel to combat arms smuggling into 
Gaza, although he knew about it in advance and consulted with 
Secretary Rice and me about its contents.  The Egyptians do 
not want to be stuck holding the Gaza bag, and must be able 
to point the finger of blame at Israel for the plight of the 
Palestinians.  At the same time, Egypt has withstood scathing 
and widespread criticism in the Arab world for refusing to 
open the Rafah border crossing to supply Gaza.  Even during 
the height of the December fighting, the Egyptians only sent 
medicine and medical supplies through the Rafah border; all 
other humanitarian goods went through the Israeli crossing at 
Kerem Shalom.  They likewise insist that Rafah will only 
reopen to handle Gazan travellers when the Gazan side is 
under PA control with EU observers according to the 2005 AMA. 
 
 
8. (S/NF) Ultimately, Egypt believes that the only realistic 
and viable solution to erode Hamas' power and stop arms 
smuggling is the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza 
and the opening of Gaza's border to legitimate trade.  While 
in the short term we can best assist the Egyptians with 
technical know-how and training, long term counter smuggling 
success will depend on reducing the financial incentives to 
smuggling by providing the Sinai Bedouin with legitimate 
economic opportunities and by regularly opening the Gaza 
borders to trade, thereby reducing economic incentives to 
smuggle. 
 
---------------------------------- 
The March 2 Gaza Donors Conference 
---------------------------------- 
 
9. (S/NF) President Mubarak told Senator Mitchell that he 
 
CAIRO 00000231  003 OF 004 
 
 
wanted to personally invite you to the March 2 Gaza Donors 
Conference in Cairo.  Aboul Gheit will press hard for you to 
accept this invitation.  He is keen to keep up the momentum 
on Gaza reconstruction and for Egypt to be seen as taking the 
lead in helping the Palestinians.  It is very important to 
him that this conference be at the ministerial level, and he 
will be disappointed if you are unable to accept. 
 
------------- 
Iraq and Iran 
------------- 
 
10. (S/NF) President Mubarak enjoys recounting for visiting 
members of Congress how he warned former President Bush 
against invading Iraq, ending with, "I told you so!" and a 
wag of his finger.  In addition, there are Egyptian 
misgivings about Nuri Al-Maliki and Shia majority rule in 
Iraq.  Egypt therefore will need additional prodding to 
continue to take steps to help  rehabilitate Iraq into the 
greater Arab world.  You should ask Aboul Gheit when he plans 
to fully open the Egyptian embassy in Baghdad and exchange 
accredited ambassadors with Iraq (the first Egyptian 
ambassador to post-Saddam Iraq was assassinated).  As for 
Iran, Mubarak has a visceral hatred for the Islamic Republic, 
referring repeatedly to Iranians as "liars," and denouncing 
them for seeking to destabilize Egypt and the region.  He 
sees the Syrians and Qataris as sycophants to Tehran and 
liars themselves.  There is no doubt that Egypt sees Iran and 
its greatest long-term threat, both as it develops a nuclear 
capability and as it seeks to export its "Shia revolution." 
Nonetheless, Mubarak told Mitchell pointedly that he did not 
oppose the U.S. speaking to the Iranians, as long as we did 
not "believe a single word they say."  Aboul Gheit will be 
keen to hear your description of U.S. intentions towards 
Iran. In his conversation with Senator Mitchell, Aboul Gheit 
carefully noting he was speaking personally, expressed more 
interest into bringing the Syrians into negotiations again; 
President Mubarak was not enthusiastic about dealing with the 
Syrians at this time. 
 
------------------------ 
U.S. Assistance to Egypt 
------------------------ 
 
11. (S/NF) The greatest Egyptian outrage a year ago -- 
Congressional conditioning of $100 million of U.S. assistance 
to Egypt -- may now be moot, according to our latest 
understanding of the state of play with the FY2009 
appropriations language.  Beyond the issue of conditioning, 
the Egyptians resent the U.S. unilateral decision to cut ESF 
in half, from $415 million in FY-08 to $200 million in FY-09, 
a level which the Egyptians find embarrassing, not because 
they need the money (they say), but because it shows our 
diminished view of the value of our relationship.  In my 
view, it is important to the U.S. to continue an ESF program 
aimed at health, education, and poverty eradication to 
demonstrate concern for the Egyptian people as opposed to a 
strictly military assistance program. Egypt has also been 
unhappy with the use of these funds to support democracy in 
Egypt.  It would be useful if you could urge that Egypt 
accept the FY 2009 levels so that we can proceed to program 
funds to benefit Egypt, while promising to engage in a 
serious review of the conflicts that exist and a desire to 
resolve them as soon as possible. 
 
12.  (S/NF) Concerning military assistance, the Egyptian 
political and military leadership feel that they have been 
"short changed" by our holding to an FMF level of $1.3 
billion, (the same level for 30 years despite inflation), and 
which they contrast with increases to our military assistance 
to Israel.  Finally, Egypt seeks a higher profile in 
international financial circles (Finance Minister Youssef 
Boutros Ghali was recently named Chairman of the IMF's 
policy-setting committee, the IMFC, the first from a 
developing country), and Aboul Gheit is likely to ask for 
your support to include Egypt in expanded G8 and G20 fora. 
 
 
--------------------------------- 
Ayman Nour and Saad Eddin Ibrahim 
--------------------------------- 
 
13.  (S/NF) Egypt's political leadership considers our public 
chastisement of their treatment of jailed former opposition 
Al Ghad party leader Ayman Nour as interfering with internal 
affairs and infringement on national sovereignty.  Mubarak 
takes this issue personally, and it makes him seethe when we 
raise it, particularly in public.  Aboul Gheit's view is that 
we have made Ayman Nour a freedom martyr, and a damaging (and 
 
CAIRO 00000231  004 OF 004 
 
 
distorting) prism through which we view our relationship with 
Egypt.  Much the same can be said about Saad Eddin Ibrahim, 
the outspoken political science professor and democracy 
activist who is in self-imposed exile in the U.S. because of 
spurious law suits brought against him for allegedly defaming 
Egypt.  In a negative development in late January, Egypt,s 
Attorney General-equivalent took action to advance the only 
criminal case pending against Ibrahim.  You should press 
Aboul Gheit hard on Nour and Ibrahim, and also urge the GOE 
to stop arresting other less prominent political activists. 
Nour's health is bad and he has served more than half his 
sentence; he deserves a humanitarian pardon. You may wish to 
lay down a marker for a future discussion on democratization 
and human rights concerns.  You might note that although you 
and the President want to improve the relationship, Egypt 
could take some steps to remove these very volatile issues 
from the agenda. 
 
------------ 
Farouq Hosny 
------------ 
 
13. (S/NF) Egypt has mounted a full-scale international 
campaign to support the candidacy of Culture Minister Farouq 
Hosny for Director General of UNESCO.  The Arab League and 
the African Union have already publicly stated their 
commitment to Hosny, and the Egyptians believe they also have 
the support of several Europeans, notably the French.  Aboul 
Gheit will also seek US support -- or, at least, not to 
actively oppose -- the candidacy of Farouq Hosny as the next 
Director General of UNESCO.  The U.S. informed him last year 
that we could not support the candidacy and urged Egypt to 
put forward another name. Abould Gheit will argue Hosny's 
merits for facing down the Islamic extremists who want to 
narrow the space in Egypt for artistic expression.  U.S. 
objections have been to statements Hosny has made that 
"Israel had no culture. . .it stole cultural ideas from 
others and claimed them as its own" and other objectionable 
remarks.  If we plan to derail the Hosny candidacy, we must 
provide a credible alternate, preferably an Arab and/or 
Muslim. 
SCOBEY
Source: 09Cairo231
الترجمة العربية: بقلم حازم فؤاد

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