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|Tags:||KISL PGOV PREL EG|
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 CAIRO 002877 SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/13/2015 TAGS: KISL, PGOV, PREL, EG SUBJECT: EGYPT: SMEAR PUTS MUSLIM BROTHERS ON THE DEFENSIVE 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 (d). ------- Summary ------- 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." 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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