US embassy cable - 05CAIRO2877 (original version)


Identifier: 05CAIRO2877
Wikileaks: View 05CAIRO2877 at
Origin: Embassy Cairo
Created: 2005-04-13 16:13:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Redacted: This cable was redacted by Wikileaks. [Show redacted version] [Compare redacted and unredacted version]
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 03 CAIRO 002877 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/13/2015 
REF: A. CAIRO 2516 
     B. CAIRO 2433 
     C. CAIRO 1509 
     D. CAIRO 1413 
     E. 04 CAIRO 8353 
Classified by A/DCM Michael Corbin for reasons 1.4 (b) and 
1. (C) Enemies of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood have seized on 
an erroneous report as an opportunity to attack the group as 
duplicitous and disloyal.  In early April, Egyptian media 
began reporting (baseless) rumors that the U.S. and the MB 
had covertly opened a channel for dialogue and potential 
cooperation, and the matter is still being widely discussed a 
week later.  The rumours may have been inspired by distorted 
reports that the Secretary had signalled a new U.S. attitude 
toward Islamists in politics.  In a TV appearance, MB Supreme 
Guide Mahdy Akef denied reports of contacts with the U.S., 
but was ambushed with barbed questions on various subjects. 
The interviewer and (hostile) fellow guests worked to portray 
Akef and the MB as hypocritical and unsophisticated - at one 
point forcing him to admit he did not know who Bill Gates is. 
 Separately, the Mufti of the Republic, Egypt's 
second-ranking Islamic cleric, warned students that 
membership in the MB and other "illegal" groups was a heresy. 
 New attacks on the MB probably come in reaction the MB 
group's recent efforts to reassert itself in the public 
political domain.  Meanwhile, just because the MB has 
recently been victimized by fabricated press reports, there 
is no sign it plans to halt its own use of disinformation. 
End summary. 
Talking to the Americans: The Ultimate Insult 
2. (C) A story filed in early April by the Cairo bureau of 
the regional Arabic daily Ash-Sharq al-Awsat, and 
subsequently repeated by various Egyptian papers, asserted 
that Embassy Cairo has made an overture to the Muslim 
Brotherhood (MB) seeking to open a channel for dialogue.  The 
story was written by a journalist with a track record for 
writing incorrect pieces about the Embassy, its personnel, 
and its activities.  The story attracted significant 
attention in Cairo salons, with many apparently taking it at 
face value, and some speculating that the U.S. was now 
undertaking a new strategy of engagement of Islamist groups 
like the MB across the Middle East. 
3. (C) The attention has apparently been fueled in part by 
erroneous rumors circulating in Cairo that Secretary Rice 
signalled in a recent interview that the USG is prepared to 
deal with Islamist governments in the region, should they 
come to power through a democratic process.  (Note: The 
rumors could be a severe distortion of the Secretary's 
comment to the L.A. Times that "Iraqis need to find their own 
path to the relationship between Islam and democracy." 
Alternatively, they could be a distortion of the Secretary's 
statement in her Washington Post interview that "the Middle 
East will remain unstable anyway."   End note.)  According to 
a related conspiracy theory that emerged in Cairo, the MB's 
March 27 demonstrations, thwarted by massive police 
deployments, were prompted by Secretary Rice's "signal" to 
Islamist groups in her interview. 
4. (C) The independent daily Nahdat Masr added further 
credence to the story of an alleged U.S. overture to the MB 
by publishing the reactions of a variety of (non-GOE) 
political actors, many of whom were indignant and seized on 
the story as "evidence" of the MB's treachery. 
Representatives of several opposition parties were quoted in 
the article giving credence to reports of the U.S. overture 
and describing the move as either a tactic by the MB to put 
pressure on the GOE or, to quote Dia' Ad-Din Dawood of the 
semi-official Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, "the 
U.S. is playing various forces like chess pieces, using them 
and casting them aside as it suits their interests." 
The MB React 
5. (C) Reached for comment by the press, MB Deputy Supreme 
Guide Mohammed Habib also denied any contacts had been made 
and added that, while he did not reject out of hand any 
contact with the USG, it would have to be initiated through 
the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).  Habib's 
statement did nothing to shield Supreme Guide Mahdy Akef, 
when he faced a series of whithering questions during a 
subsequent appearance on Orbit TV, a satellite station 
particularly popular in Egypt.  Akef was asked, from several 
different angles, about new reports of ties between the MB 
and the U.S.  He repeatedly denied such ties, and insisted 
reports of a covert MB-USG meeting were fabricated.  He is 
insisted that the MB and the U.S. have "fundamental and not 
just political differences...what the U.S. is doing in the 
region and the Arab world is unbelievable."  Asked about 
another rumor circulating in Cairo, Akef also denied that the 
MB were endorsing the presidential campaign of democracy 
advocate Saad Eddin Ibrahim in return for his efforts to 
improve the group's standing in Washington. 
And Who is Bill Gates Anyway? 
6. (C) In fact, questions about the alleged U.S. ties to the 
MB were probably the least of Akef's worries during his 
appearance on Orbit.  Early on the show, the interviewer set 
him up with several questions clarifying the MB's calls for 
transparency in Presidential elections and its support for 
term limits.  The interviewer then led Akef into explaining 
the process by which he was selected Supreme Guide, (by the 
15-member Guidance Bureau), acknowledging that details of the 
group's by-laws were not public, and conceding that the MB 
itself imposed no term-limits on its leadership.  Going in 
for the kill, the interviewer stated that, in sum, a group 
that called for democracy, transparency, and term limits 
applied none of these principles to its own governance.  Akef 
appeared rattled. 
7. (C) Later in the program, the interviewer asked Akef if he 
knew what "Windows" was and who Bill Gates is.  An annoyed 
Akef asked, "Is this live? ....Are you trying to show off?" 
Akef conceded he knew nothing about either Windows or Bill 
Gates but asserted "When I need to know something, I have 
hundreds and even thousands of assistants who can provide me 
with information on any topic." 
Mufti Slams MB 
8. (C) Separately, in an early April lecture delivered to 
students at Al-Azhar University, Dr. Ahmad Gom'a, who, as 
Mufti of the Republic, is Egypt's second-ranking Islamic 
cleric, warned that membership in the MB and other Islamist 
groups constituted a "heresy" and called on the 'Ulema 
(Islamic scholars/community leaders) to combat the MB and 
other "illegal" groups.  In retort, MB Deputy Supreme Guide 
Habib said that Gom'a should instead be focused on attacking 
corruption and other challenges facing the nation, but added 
that the group would not be dragged into a "street fight" 
with the Mufti, as they were too busy struggling to advance 
political reform. 
Why Now? 
9. (C) The GOE judges the MB to be the most serious (or 
perhaps the only genuine) political threat to the regime. 
Harsh coverage of the MB, both in the Egyptian media and in 
Cairo salons, is not a new phenomenon, but it is rarely as 
concentrated as it has been in the past ten days.  The 
intensity of the latest round of criticism is probably 
attributable to various factors, including an apparent GOE 
willingness to believe that the U.S. might actually seek to 
open a dialogue with the MB, and in the process confer upon 
them international recognition the GOE has long sought to 
deny.  As noted above, this paranoia has no doubt been fueled 
by the false but widely believed rumors that Secretary Rice, 
in recent media appearances, has been signaling a new U.S. 
willingness to deal with Islamist political groups. 
10. (C) The new attacks on the MB come at a time when the 
group appears to have been making a conscious effort to 
reassert its presence in the public domain, particularly as 
its profile has decreased in the public discourse on 
President Mubarak's consititutional amendment initiative, a 
move designed in part to marginalize Islamists from the 
political arena (ref C).  The demonstration the MB attempted 
to stage on March 27, in uncharacteristic defiance of a 
government ban (ref B), is a clear example of this effort, as 
is the MB's participation, in recent (small but 
well-publicized) demonstrations organized by Kifaya 
("Enough"), a protest movement consisting of a broad spectrum 
of political elements (ref A).  On April 6 and again on April 
13, on-campus demonstrations at several universities, 
apparently organized by MB youth groups, have added to their 
staple anti-Israel and anti-U.S. slogans calls for rescinding 
the emergency law, rejecting "inheritance of rule," and "an 
end to tyranny." 
A Taste of Their Own Medicine 
11. (C) As a postscript, just because the MB have lately been 
defending themselves against fabricated reports does not mean 
they themselves refrain from circulating disinformation.   In 
an April 7 posting on its website, "Ikhwan Online," the MB 
assert "the United States has announced that it does not 
support the continuation of the rule of President Mubarak and 
has also announced that it does not accept his replacement by 
his son, Gamal Mubarak."  The piece cites "informed Egyptian 
diplomatic sources," who also reported that the Mubarak 
regime has been disappointed by the cool U.S. reaction to the 
President's constitutional reform initiative, "particularly 
after a series of concessions to the Zionist bloc aimed at 
appeasing the American administration." 
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