US embassy cable - 05CAIRO2433

EGYPT:MASSIVE POLICE DEPLOYMENTS PARALYZE CENTRAL CAIRO, THWART SMALL DEMONSTRATION

Identifier: 05CAIRO2433
Wikileaks: View 05CAIRO2433 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Cairo
Created: 2005-03-28 15:27:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PHUM ASEC EG
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 002433 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/28/2015 
TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, ASEC, EG 
SUBJECT: EGYPT:MASSIVE POLICE DEPLOYMENTS PARALYZE CENTRAL 
CAIRO, THWART SMALL DEMONSTRATION 
 
REF: A. CAIRO 1413 
     B. 04 CAIRO 8353 
 
 Classified by Acting ECPO Counselor Al Magleby for reasons 
1.4 (b) and (d). 
 
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Summary 
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1. (C) On March 27, one of the largest security operations in 
recent years paralyzed Central Cairo for hours.  Thousands of 
police troops in riot gear thwarted the attempt of the Muslim 
Brotherhood (MB), accompanied by a smattering of leftists, to 
stage a demonstration either at the parliament building or 
nearby Tahrir Square to press for "real political reform." 
Ultimately, the demonstrators, scattered in several clusters 
around town, were unable to join forces and eventually 
dispersed.  Their total probably did not exceed 200-300. 
Approximately 70 of the demonstrators were detained, most 
following scuffles with police on Qasr al-Ayni Street, one of 
central Cairo's principal north-south arteries.  Among those 
detained was Abdel Moneim Aboul Fettouh, a member of the MB's 
Guidance Bureau, but he and others were released within a few 
hours.  Mahdy al-Akef, the MB's Supreme Guide, claimed to an 
Egyptian daily that the GOE had granted, and then belatedly 
retracted, permission for the demonstration.  A senior GOE 
official asserted to poloff that the police's massive show of 
force was not disproportionate to the modest number of 
demonstrators.  The GOE also reportedly intends to ban a 
demonstration by the active but small group "Enough" proposed 
for Wednesday, March 30.  End summary. 
 
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Precautions Prompt Gridlock 
--------------------------- 
 
2. (SBU) Starting in the early hours of March 27, thousands 
of troops from the Ministry of Interior's Central Security 
Forces deployed to positions around central Cairo.  By 
mid-morning, the troops sealed off many of the city's major 
arteries, especially those leading toward the parliament 
building or Tahrir Square, the expected rallying points for 
demonstrators organized by the MB.  In so doing, security 
forces essentially paralyzed much of the city, causing 
traffic snarls that stretched out for miles. 
 
3. (SBU) A March 27 walk through central Cairo revealed 
thousands of riot police, but no demonstrators.  The 
demonstrators, who apparently did not total more than 
200-300, were blocked some distance from the parliament and 
Tahrir Square, in three main clusters:  One near the bottom 
of Qasr al-Ayni Street, about 2 miles south of the 
parliament; one at Ramsis Square, about 3 miles north of the 
parliament; and a third group in Dokki, on the west bank of 
the Nile.  Most of the drivers observed by poloff had shut 
down their car engines and were reading newspapers and 
chatting alongside their vehicles.  Pedestrians were even 
prevented from crossing Qasr al-Ayni Street, the major 
thoroughfare near the parliament.  The traffic logjam only 
began to break late in the afternoon.   At no time did the 
demonstrators approach the Embassy or constitute a threat to 
mission personnel.  Host government security forces augmented 
the normal heavy police presence around the Embassy. 
 
4. (C) The demonstrations had been called by the MB in the 
wake of several well publicized but small demonstrations by 
"Kifaya (Enough)" a loose coalition of regime opponents 
ranging from communists to Islamists.  The intent of the MB 
had apparently been to make its presence known and advertise 
its political program of "fighting corruption," promoting 
"political reform," and reiterating its staunch rejection of 
"Zionism and U.S. imperialism."  Nonetheless, it appears the 
MB never intended to stage a major show of force, such as 
when it turned out over 100,000 demonstrators for a 
state-sanctioned and tightly controlled anti-war 
demonstration in February 2003.  (See Ref B for an overview 
of recent MB developments.) 
 
5. (C) MB Supreme Guide Mahdy Akef claimed to the independent 
daily Al-Masry Al-Youm that permission for the demonstration 
had been granted by the Ministry of Interior and then 
belatedly retracted.  (Comment:  MOI has granted the MB 
permission to demonstrate before, but would never agree to a 
large demonstration in the center of town.  While we cannot 
verify Akef's claim, it would track with the fact that 
apparently only a few hundred demonstrators turned out.  End 
comment.) 
 
6. (C) By late afternoon, multiple sources reported that 
65-70 demonstrators had been arrested.  Most of the arrests 
apparently took place on Qasr al-Ayni Street, where scuffles 
were reported between police and demonstrators.  Among those 
arrested on Qasr al-Ayni were Abdel Moneim Aboul Fettouh, a 
member of the MB's Guidance Bureau (a sort of "governing 
council" for the group).  Though the GOE periodically arrests 
MB cadres, most are from the middle to lower ranks of the 
group.  If detained and/or prosecuted, Aboul Fettouh's arrest 
would have constituted a significant escalation in the GOE's 
cat-and-mouse game with the MB, but he, and other detainees, 
were released within a few hours. 
 
---------- 
A GOE View 
---------- 
 
7. (C) In a previously scheduled March 27 meeting, Assistant 
Minister of Justice Iskandar Ghattas (protect) argued to 
poloff that the massive show of force by police was not 
disproportionate, even given the small number of 
demonstrators.  "These people (the MB) are very 
irresponsible...very dangerous.  They want to cause a big 
problem....  We are dealing with uneducated, illiterate 
masses....  They can be easily manipulated and incited.  We 
are doing this for your protection...one minute you have a 
few dozen demonstrators chanting slogans, the next minute 
half the city will be on fire."  Ghattas recalled personal 
experiences with the 1952 riots in Cairo, when several 
neighborhoods experienced looting and arson by rampaging 
mobs, and similar disturbances following a sudden reduction 
of subsidies on staple foods in 1977. 
 
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"No" to "Enough" 
---------------- 
 
8. (SBU) Various Egyptian media are reporting on March 28 
that the GOE intends to deny permission for a demonstration 
proposed by Kifaya for March 30.  Several recent Kifaya 
demonstrations, which received ample media attention despite 
their modest size, have been tolerated (if not authorized) by 
the GOE (ref A). 
 
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Comment 
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9. (C) The MB may have been emboldened by the GOE's tolerance 
of recent (small) anti-regime rallies by Kifaya.  The group 
may well have miscalculated the GOE's response regarding its 
own demonstration, but we also cannot discount Supreme Guide 
Akef's story that the Ministry of Interior belatedly 
retracted permission.  The MB may have also been spurred to 
stage a public event now by other recent developments. 
Egypt's political circles have been preoccupied by Mubarak's 
constitutional reform initiative, announced February 26, 
which has the potential to permanently alter Egypt's 
political landscape.  It is widely agreed, however, that 
parliamentarians hammering out the modalities will construct 
a formula which excludes the MB and other Islamists.  The MB 
also may feel it was dealt a set-back in the recent Bar 
Syndicate elections, in which the anti-MB President, Sameh 
Ashour, easily defeated a challenger allegedly backed by the 
MB.  Finally, although wire service reports claimed that 
several thousand MB members did manage to assemble for 
demonstrations despite the security cordon, our best 
information based on local contacts is that the total number 
of demonstrators did not exceed several hundred.  End 
comment. 
 
 
Visit Embassy Cairo's Classified Website: 
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/cairo 
 
You can also access this site through the 
State Department's Classified SIPRNET website. 
 
GRAY 

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