US embassy cable - 86ALEXANDRIA1048

THE "AL-AHRAR" PARTY IN ALEXANDRIA: THE ISLAMIC RIGHT RESURGENT

Identifier: 86ALEXANDRIA1048
Wikileaks: View 86ALEXANDRIA1048 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Consulate Alexandria
Created: 1986-09-20 10:04:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV SOCI PINS PINR EG
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
R 201004Z SEP 86
FM AMCONSUL ALEXANDRIA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 6131
INFO AMEMBASSY CAIRO
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ALEXANDRIA 01048 
 
C O R R E C T E D C O P Y (TEXT) 
 
E.O. 12356: DECL:OADR 
TAGS: PGOV, SOCI, PINS, PINR, EG 
SUBJECT: THE "AL-AHRAR" PARTY IN ALEXANDRIA: THE ISLAMIC RIGHT RESURGENT 
 
1.  CONFIDENTIAL -- ENTIRE TEXT. 
- 
2.  SUMMARY AND COMMENT:  ONE OF THE MORE INTERESTING 
PHENOMENA  WITHIN EGYPT'S ESTABLISHED OPPOSITION PARTIES 
OVER THE PAST SIX MONTHS HAS BEEN THE TRANSFORMATION 
WITHIN THE "LIBERALS" OR "AL-AHRAR" PARTY.   THROUGHOUT 
THE 1970'S AND EARLY 1980'S, THE PARTY WAS PROBABLY THE 
MOST BOURGEOIS AND PRO-WESTERN OF THE LEGAL OPPOSITION 
PARTIES (IT INITIALLY EVEN SUPPORTED CAMP DAVID, SUPPORT 
FOR WHICH HAS SINCE BEEN ABROGATED).  THE PARTY'S WEEKLY 
NEWSPAPER WAS WIDELY READ IN ALEXANDRIA, ESPECIALLY PRIOR 
TO THE RE-PUBLICATION OF "AL-WAFD" NEWSPAPER WHICH NOW 
WINS LOCAL POPULARITY CONTESTS.   HOWEVER, SINCE THE 
BEGINNING OF THIS YEAR, THE PARTY HAS BEEN INCREASINGLY 
RADICALIZED BY A GROUP OF ISLAMIC ACTIVISTS WHO ARE 
EXPANDING THEIR DOMINANCE OF THE PARTY STRUCTURE. 
THE POST HAS RECENTLY ESTABLISHED CONTACT WITH A MEMBER 
OF "AL-AHRAR'S" POLITBURO WHO OPPOSES THE INCREASED 
ISLAMICIZATION AND WHO HAS DESCRIBED FOR US SOME OF 
THE RECENT CHANGES IN THE PARTY.  THIS SOURCE CONTINUES 
TO BELIEVE THAT RELIGION FOR MANY OF EGYPT'S 
YOUNG PEOPLE IS ONLY A FAD, BUT SHE STILL COULD NOT 
CONCEAL HER CONCERN OVER WHAT HAS OCCURRED WITHIN 
THE "AL-AHRAR" PARTY. IT IS FAR TOO EARLY TO DETERMINE 
WHETHER THESE CHANGES WILL ALTER SIGNIFICANTLY THE 
MINUTE STANDING THE "AL-AHRAR" PARTY HAS ON EGYPT'S 
POLITICAL MAP, ALTHOUGH ITS IMPACT HAS BEEN FELT IN 
ALEXANDRIA.  AT A MINIMUM, THE INFUSION OF DYNAMIC, 
YOUNGER BLOOD INTO AN ORGANIZATION WHICH HAD ALMOST 
CEASED TO EXIST POLITICALLY IS CERTAIN TO INVIGORATE 
THE LOCAL POLITICAL PROCESS IN 
FUTURE POPULAR COUNCIL ELECTIONS AND TO GIVE THE 
SQUABBLING AND DIVIDED LOCAL NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY 
SOMETHING ELSE TO THINK ABOUT.  END SUMMARY AND COMMENT. 
- 
3.  TRADITIONALLY, THE "AL-AHRAR" PARTY (OR "THE LIBERALS") 
HAS ENJOYED ONLY A SMALL FOLLOWING IN ALEXANDRIA.  ITS 
MODERATELY LEFTIST, PRO-WESTERN POLICIES HAD 
CONSIDERABLE APPEAL TO BUSINESSMEN, SMALL MERCHANTS, 
AND THE MIDDLE CLASS GENERALLY, BUT THESE SAME ELEMENTS 
TENDED TO SUPPORT EITHER THE RULING NDP OR THE 
"WAFD". 
- 
4.  THE POST'S ATTENTION TO RECENT CHANGES WITHIN 
"AL-AHRAR" DEVELOPED FOLLOWING THE ANNOUNCEMENT THAT 
SHAYKH SALAH ABU ISMAIL WAS PLANNING TO ADDRESS THE PARTY 
FAITHFUL IN ALEXANDRIA ON SEPTEMBER 11,  A DATE 
WHICH COINCIDED WITH THE PERES-MUBARAK SUMMIT. 
FOR SEVERAL YEARS, ABU ISMAIL HAS BEEN ONE OF THE MORE 
ARTICULATE (AND RADICAL) PROPONENTS OF THE ISLAMIC 
TENDENCY IN EGYPT.  ALTHOUGH HE HAS CONTINUALLY ESCHEWED 
VIOLENCE, HE HAS PROMOTED A VERY STRINGENT PROGRAM 
REGARDING ADOPTION OF THE "SHARIA" (ISLAMIC LAW) AND 
OTHER MEASURES DESIGNED TO MAKE EGYPT INTO SOME KIND 
OF ILL-DEFINED ISLAMIC STATE.  EARLIER THIS YEAR, ABU 
ISMAIL AND A LARGE NUMBER OF FOLLOWERS JOINED THE 
"AL-AHRAR" PARTY.  ABU ISMAIL IS, IN EFFECT, THE 
DRIVING FORCE IN THE PARTY BEHIND THE CHAIRMAN, MUSTAFA 
KAMAL MURAD. 
- 
5.  CONGEN PERSONNEL RECENTLY CONTACTED MRS. RAGAA RASHAD, 
AN ALEXANDRIAN LAWYER AND MEMBER OF THE PARTY'S POLITBURO 
(SHE ALSO HEADS THE LIBERALS "WOMEN'S AFFAIRS" DEPARTMENT). 
RASHAD (PLEASE PROTECT) IS A STRONG OPPONENT OF THE 
RECENT CHANGES IN THE PARTY.  IN A RECENT CONVERSATION, 
SHE TALKED ABOUT ABU ISMAIL'S SEPTEMBER 11 
CONVOCATION OF THE ALEXANDRIA BRANCH OF THE PARTY AND 
DESCRIBED THE IMPACT OF THE ISLAMIC RIGHT'S INROADS. 
- 
6.  CONERNING THE FORMER, RASHAD DECLINED TO 
GIVE TOO MANY DETAILS.  SHE NOTED THAT ABU ISMAIL HAD 
HIGHLIGHTED FOUR POINTS: (A) THE OPPOSITION 
BOYCOTT OF THE SHURA COUNCIL ELECTIONS THIS FALL; 
(B) THE IMPORTANCE OF THE APPLICATION OF THE "SHARIA"; 
(C) CONDEMNATION OF THE TORTURE OF "ISLAMIC GAMAAT" 
MEMBERS IN PRISON (NOTE: THIS IS A CONSTANT THEME IN 
THE OPPOSITION PRESS, AND ESPECIALLY IN "AL-WAFD", AS 
READERS OF THE CAIRO PRESS REVIEW WILL NOTE.); AND 
(D) "AL-AHRAR'S" OPPOSITION TO THE EGYPTIAN-ISRAELI 
SUMMIT. 
- 
7.  ON THE RECENT CHANGES WITHIN THE "AL-AHRAR" PARTY, 
RASHAD ARGUED THAT MANY OF THE PARTY'S KEY PRINCIPLES 
HAVE CHANGED SINCE SHAYKH ABU ISMAIL "TOOK OVER." 
PREVIOUSLY, THE PARTY BELIEVED THAT THE "SHARIA" WAS 
ONE OF THE SOURCES FOR LEGISLATION.  NOW, THE PARTY 
HAS DETERMINED THAT "SHARIA" IS THE SOLE SOURCE OF 
LEGISLATION.  EVEN THE CHAIRMAN OF THE PARTY, MUSTAFA 
KAMAL MURAD, HAS SEEMED TO CHANGE.  RASHAD SAID THIS 
OCCURRED FOLLOWING A VISIT TO SAUDI ARABIA.  MURAD (WHO WAS 
KNOWN IN ALEXANDRIA FOR HIS NIGHTLY BOUTS WITH JOHNNY 
WALKER) IS LETTING HIS BEARD GROW AND IS BECOMING VERY 
RELIGIOUS, ACCORDING TO RASHAD.  OTHER SOURCES TELL US 
HE HAS BECOME VERY MORIBUND IN HIS DIRECTION OF PARTY 
ACTIVITIES AND SEEMS TO HAVE ABDICATED MUCH OF HIS 
AUTHORITY TO ABU ISMAIL AND HIS SUPPORTERS. 
- 
8.  AS FOR THE NEW PARTY MEMBERS, MRS. RASHAD SAYS THAT 
THE PARTY NOW SEEMS TO CONSIST OF VARIOUS SECTS OF 
MUSLIM GROUPS.  EACH GROUP, SHE ADDED, HAS A DIFFERENT 
NAME, SUCH AS "THE REJECTION OF THE FORBIDDEN AND THE 
REQUESTING OF FAIRNESS ASSOCIATION."  SHE CHARACTERIZED 
MOST OF THEM AS "RADICALS".  MOST OF THE MEMBERS, SHE 
SAID, ARE WELL-EDUCATED.  MANY ARE PROFESSIONALS SUCH 
AS DOCTORS, LAWYERS, AND PHARMACISTS.   MOST OF THE WOMEN 
ARE TOTALLY COVERED.  EVEN THOSE WHO ARE EDUCATED (AND 
MOST OF THEM ARE, ACCORDING TO THIS SOURCE) SEEM TO BELIEVE 
THAT WOMEN SHOULD BE COVERED SO AS NOT TO ATTRACT 
MEN AND THEREBY "COMMIT A SIN."  EXPANDING ON THIS LOGIC, 
SHE SAID THAT PROPONENTS OF THIS POLICY BELIEVE THAT IF 
THE WOMAN HAS PRETTY HANDS, THEN THE HANDS HAVE TO BE 
COVERED.  ATTRACTIVE EYES ALSO HAVE TO BE COVERED, EITHER 
BY WEARING GLASSES OR A VEIL.  EVEN PHOTOGRAPHS 
OF PEOPLE WHICH USED TO DECORATE PARTY OFFICES HAVE 
BEEN REMOVED BECAUSE THEY ARE CONSIDERED 
TABOO, ACCORDING TO RASHAD.  IN A RELATED INCIDENT, SHE 
REPORTED THAT ABU ISMAIL'S DEPUTY, SHAYKH YUSIF AL-BADRI 
(AKA YOUSSEF EL BADRY) WAS ONCE INFURIATED BECAUSE 
"AL-AHRAR" NEWSPAPER HAD PICTURED "NAKED WOMEN" ON 
ONE OF ITS PAGES.  MRS. RASHAD DISCOVERED LATER THAT 
BY NAKED WOMEN, HE MEANT WOMEN WHOSE HAIR WAS NOT COVERED. 
MRS. RASHAD HAS, HERSELF, COME UNDER PRESSURE TO WEAR THE 
VEIL, BUT SHE HAS THUS FAR SUCCESSFULLY RESISTED. 
- 
9.  ASKED FOR HER VIEWS ON THE CURRENT APPEAL OF ISLAM 
TO EGYPT'S YOUNG PEOPLE, RASHAD RECITED REASONS MENTIONED 
BY MANY IN THE COUNTRY'S SECULAR POLITICAL ESTABLISHMENT. 
POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC PRESSURES ARE CHIEFLY RESPONSIBLE 
FOR THE RELIGIOUS REVIVAL, SHE SAID.  NEVERTHELESS, SHE 
QUESTIONED WHETHER THE ALL OF THE YOUNG MEN WHO WEAR 
BEARDS AND CLAIM TO BE RELIGIOUS ARE 
AS DEEPLY COMMITTED AS THEY STATE. 
SHE RECALLED THE STORY OF A RELATIVE WHO 
WAS A MEMBER OF ONE OF THE "SUNNI" (IN THIS CONTEXT, 
"SUNNI" MEANS RELIGIOUSLY DEVOUT BEARDED PEOPLE) GROUPS. 
HE  FELL IN LOVE WITH A GIRL WHO WAS NOT 
VEILED AND EVENTUALLY LEFT THE GROUP, SHAVED HIS BEARD, 
AND ADOPTED A DECIDEDLY SECULAR LIFE STYLE. 
- 
10.  BIO NOTE:  RAGAA RASHAD HAS LONG BEEN ACTIVE IN 
HUMAN RIGHTS AND WOMEN'S AFFAIRS.  IN THE LATTER CONTEXT, 
SHE HAS ADVOCATED THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A COMMITTEE IN 
ALEXANDRIA TO DEFEND WOMEN'S RIGHTS.  SHE HAS PARTICIPATED 
IN A NUMBER OF HUMAN RIGHTS CONFERENCES ABROAD AND, 
LOCALLY, HAS LECTURED TO THE MUSLIM YOUTH ASSOCIATION 
ABOUT CITIZENS' RIGHTS.  A POLITICAL MODERATE, SHE IS 
A LAWYER AND CURRENTLY IN CHARGE OF LEGAL AFFAIRS IN 
ALEXANDRIA'S GUMRUK DISTRICK.  TWO LOCAL ISSUES OF CURRENT 
INTEREST TO HER ARE SOLUTION OF THE CITY'S ENORMOUS 
SEWERAGE PROBLEM THROUGH COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION AND 
THE CONSTRUCTION OF DAY CARE NURSERIES TO HELP WORKING 
WOMEN PLACE THEIR CHILDREN DURING THE DAY. 
 
 
HAMBLEY 

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