US embassy cable - 85ALEXANDRIA548 (original version)

LETTER FROM ALEXANDRIA: RAMADAN II (original version)

Identifier: 85ALEXANDRIA548
Wikileaks: View 85ALEXANDRIA548 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Consulate Alexandria
Created: 1985-07-02 11:28:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PINR PGOV PINS EG
Redacted: This cable was redacted by Wikileaks. [Show redacted version] [Compare redacted and unredacted version]
R 021128Z JUL 85
FM AMCONSUL ALEXANDRIA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 5371
INFO AMEMBASSY CAIRO
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ALEXANDRIA 00548 
 
E.O. 12356: DECL: OADR 
TAGS: PINR, PGOV, PINS, EG 
SUBJECT:  LETTER FROM ALEXANDRIA:  RAMADAN II 
 
REF:  ALEXANDRIA 535 
 
1.  (CONFIDENTIAL - ENTIRE TEXT.) 
 
2.  SUMMARY:  THE BAIRAM FEAST, WHICH FOLLOWS RAMADAN, 
LASTED THREE DAYS IN EGYPT, FOLLOWED BY A WEEK-END.  EARLY 
NEGOTIATIONS, BETWEEN ALEXANDRIA SECURITY FORCES AND THE 
MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD, MANAGED TO AVERT VIOLENCE ON THE 
FIRST DAY OF THE FEAST.  HOWEVER, THE LETTER, IF NOT THE 
SPIRIT, OF THE GOE BAN ON RELIGIOUS DEMONSTRATIONS WAS 
REPEATEDLY VIOLATED IN ALEXANDRIA, AND RIOT POLICE WERE 
DEPLOYED TO ENSURE ORDER.  MUSLIM BROTHER (AND MEMBER 
OF THE PEOPLES ASSEMBLY, REPRESENTING THE WAFD PARTY) 
MOHAMED EL MARAGHI WAS THE LEADING ACTOR IN THE FUNDA- 
MENTALIST EVENTS IN ALEXANDRIA.  END SUMMARY. 
 
3.  THE MONTH OF RAMADAN WAS AN UNEASY TIME IN ALEXANDRIA 
(SEE REFTEL), A CITY WHICH HAS A HISTORY OF FUNDAMENTALIST 
VIOLENCE.  FOR EXAMPLE, IT WAS IN ALEXANDRIA THAT THE 
MUSLIM BROTHERS ATTEMPTED TO ASSASSINATE PRESIDENT 
NASSER IN 1954.  SHAYKH HAFEZ SALAAMA'S CALL, IN CAIRO, 
FOR A "GREEN" MARCH IN SUPPORT OF THE RAPID IMPLEMEN- 
TATION OF SHARIA, OR KORANIC, LAW IN EGYPT (SEE CAIRO 
15351, 15780 AND 15793), AND THE MINISTER OF INTERIOR'S 
SUBSEQUENT JUNE 12 DECREE BANNING PUBLIC MARCHES, 
UNDOUBTEDLY CONTRIBUTED TO THE ATMOSPHERE IN ALEXANDRIA: 
ALL LEAVES FOR SECURITY OFFICERS FOR THE DURATION OF THE 
FEAST AFTER RAMADAN WERE CANCELLED, AND POLICE WERE PUT 
ON ALERT STATUS.  WHILE THE MINISTER'S DECREE, IN FACT, 
WAS VIOLATED IN ALEXANDRIA, INTENSIVE NEGOTIATIONS 
BETWEEN THE FUNDAMENTALISTS AND THE SECRET POLICE--AS 
WELL AS THE MASSIVE STREET PRESENCE OF RIOT POLICE ON 
THE FIRST DAY OF THE FEAST--MANAGED TO AVERT VIOLENCE. 
THIS IS A SUBJECT ON WHICH IT WILL BE FOREVER DIFFICULT 
FOR FOREIGNERS TO MAKE TOO MANY INQUIRIES IN EGYPT.  WHAT 
FOLLOWS IS WHAT WE HAVE BEEN ABLE EITHER TO OBSERVE, OR 
TO OBTAIN FROM SECURITY AND OTHER SOURCES.  OUR CONTACT 
WITH FUNDAMENTALIST CLERICS IN ALEXANDRIA REMAINS LIMITED. 
 
4.  PRAYERS IN THE STADIUM:  DURING PRESIDENT SADAT'S TIME 
THERE WERE INAUGURATED,IN CAIRO AND IN ALEXANDRIA, 
MASSIVE MORNING PRAYER SESSIONS IN PUBLIC STADIA ON 
TBE FIRST DAY OF THE BAIRAM FEAST WHICH FOLLOWS RAMADAN. 
THIS YEAR IN ALEXANDRIA, STATE SECURITY AND THE MUSLIM 
BROTHERS, LED BY MOHAMED AL MARAGHI, UNDERTOOK EARLY 
DISCUSSIONS ON HOW THESE PRAYERS WOULD PROCEED.  STATE 
SECURITY FELT, PROBABLY, CORRECTLY, THAT THE OUTCOME OF 
THE EVENT WOULD BE DECIDED LARGELY BY THE TONE SET BY 
THE SHAYKH LEADING THE PRAYERS.  THEY PROPOSED THAT THE 
GOE MINISTRY OF THE AWQAF REPRESENTATIVE IN ALEXANDRIA 
(TECHNICALLY THE SENIOR IMAM IN THE CITY) LEAD THE 
PRAYERS.  THE MB'S INSISTED ON SHAYKH MEHALAWI--A 
CHARISMATIC SHAYKH WHO BECAME A PARTICULAR TARGET OF 
PRESIDENT SADAT IN THE FORMER PRESIDENT'S LAST MONTHS. 
(SHAYKH MEHALAWI WAS JAILED BY SADAT AND WE HAD HEARD 
NOTHING ELSE ABOUT HIM UNTIL HE CAME INTO THE CONSULATE 
GENERAL LAST YEAR, ESCORTED BY A BRIGADIER FROM STATE 
SECURITY, TO OBTAIN A VISA FOR TRAVEL TO THE U.S.  SEE 
84 ALEXANDRIA 329.)  THE MINISTRY OF THE INTERIOR, 
ACCORDING TO OUR ALEXANDRIA SECURITY SOURCES, CONTINUED 
TO INSIST ON THE GOVERNMENT MAN.  THEREFORE, THE STADIUM 
PRAYER NEVER TOOK PLACE. 
 
5.  PRAYERS AT SIDI GABER:  SIDI GABER IS A PUBLIC SQUARE 
LOCATED ON AVENUE EL HORREYA, THE CITY'S MAIN THOROUGH- 
FARE, IN THE CITY'S AFFLUENT EASTERN SUBURBS.  THERE IS 
A SMALL MOSQUE LOCATED NEXT TO THE SUBURBAN TRAIN STATION 
ON THE SQUARE.  OUR STATE SECURITY CONTACTS TELL US THAT 
THE MUSLIM BROTHERS CHOSE THIS MOSQUE FOR THEIR MORNING 
PRAYERS JUNE 18.  OTHERS HAVE TOLD US THAT THIS IS THE 
TRADITIONAL PLACE FROM WHICH THE BAIRAM MARCH TO THE 
CITY STADIUM BEGINS, AND THAT THE SHAYKH AT THE NEARBY 
MOSQUE IS A MB (SHAYKH MEHALAWI TRADITIONALLY HOLDS 
FORTH AT THE IBRAHIM MOSQUE, WHICH IS LOCATED DOWNTOWN 
AT RAMLEH STATION).  WHATEVER THE REASON FOR THE SITE 
SELECTION--VICE ONE OF THE MAJOR MOSQUES DOWNTOWN-- 
SUNRISE ON THE FIRST DAY OF BAIRAM SAW APPROXIMATELY 
FIFTEEN THOUSAND FUNDAMENTALISTS GATHERED IN THE STREET, 
SURROUNDED BY AN ESTIMATED ONE THOUSAND POLICE IN FULL 
RIOT GEAR, COMPLETE WITH SHIELDS AND BATONS.  COMMENT: 
BOTH THOSE FIGURES COME FROM POLICE SOURCES.  AN 
EGYPTIAN BUSINESSMAN, AND CONGEN CONTACT, WHO HAPPENED 
TO BE IN THE AREA AT THE TIME, HOWEVER, TELLS US THAT 
THERE WERE "AT LEAST" THREE THOUSAND RIOT POLICE.  "I 
BECAME VERY SCARED," HE SAID. END COMMENT.  TRAFFIC 
(WHICH IS LIGHT AT THAT EARLY HOUR) WAS TOTALLY BLOCKED, 
BUT THERE WAS NO VIOLENCE, ACCORDING TO BOTH WESTERN 
OBSERVERS AND STATE SECURITY SOURCES.  THE CONSULATE 
GENERAL'S POLITICAL ASSISTANT (A MUSLIM) LIVES ON THE 
SQUARE, AND REPORTED BEING "FRIGHTENED" BY WHAT SHE 
OBSERVED, INCLUDING NUMEROUS WOMEN IN FULL VEIL--THE 
ENTIRE FACE COVERED (AS IN THE GULF).  SHE FURTHER 
REPORTED THAT THE PRAYER WAS EXTREMELY WELL-ORGANIZED, 
WITH LEADERS DRESSED IN DISTINGUISHING GARB.  IT 
APPEARS THAT THERE WERE INTENSIVE NEGOTIATIONS AT THE 
SCENE, BETWEEN SECURITY OFFICIALS AND ORGANIZERS, AND 
THAT THOSE PARTICIPATING DID NOT ATTEMPT TO MARCH, BUT 
DISPERSED IN AN ORDERLY FASHION AFTER THE PRAYER AND 
SERMON.  SHE ALSO REPORTS THAT THE SERMON, BY MB MOHAMED 
EL MARAGHI, CONTAINED DENUNCIATIONS OF THE GOE, CALLED 
"TYRANNICAL" AT ONE POINT.  BY APPARENT AGREEMENT 
BETWEEN THE SECURITY FORCES AND THE FUNDAMENTALIST 
ORGANIZERS, THE CROWD WAS ENJOINED BY THE SPEAKER NOT 
TO RESPOND TO VARIOUS, REPEATED JIBES HE MADE AT THE 
GOVERNMENT.  REITERATING HER POINT ABOUT THEIR DISCIPLINE, 
OUR OBSERVER NOTED THAT THE GROUP OBEYED THIS REQUEST, 
ALBEIT WITH RELUCTANCE.  COMMENT:  MUSLIM BROTHER 
MOHAMED EL MARAGHI WAS ELECTED TO THE PEOPLES ASSEMBLY 
(WAFD) IN THE HUY EHOIR ELECTIONS, REPRESENTING ALEXAN- 
DRIAACXDCENTRAL DISTRICT.  WE HAVEKMET WITHRWIM ONCE 
(SEE ALEX  QIIN PARA 21).  END COMMENT. 
 
6.  SMALLER MARCHES.  THERE WERE UNDOUBTEDLY SMALLER 
MARCHES, TRADITIONAL ON THE FIRST DAY OF BAIRAM, AT 
OTHER LOCATIONS (WE SUSPECT THAT THE SECURITY FORCES 
HAD INSTRUCTIONS TO PROHIBIT ONLY "GREEN" MARCHES)-- 
IN CONTRAVENTION OF MINISTER ROUCHDY'S DECREE.  ONE 
OCCURRED IN FRONT OF THE OFFICIAL RESIDENCE, AND 
INCLUDED APPROXIMATELY A HUNDRED MEN (ONLY), MOST IN 
TYPICAL MB DRESS--WHITE GALLEBEYA, SKULL CAP--AND 
BEARDED, CHANTING THE TRADITIONAL BAIRAM PRAYER.  THE 
SECURITY FORCES STATIONED AT THE RESIDENCE DID NOT 
INTERFERE AS THE MEN MARCHED PAST IN A HIGHLY-DISCIPLINED, 
ALMOST MILITARY FASHION.  WE EARLIER REPORTED A DEMONSTRA- 
TION ON JUNE 17, THE LAST DAY OF RAMADAN, IN FRONT OF 
THE POLICE STATION IN THE WORKING CLASS DISTRICT OF 
MOHARREM BEY (SEE CAIRO 16037, PARA 8). THIFDMARCH, OF 
APPRTMIMALELY 300#$034 9, , WE HAVE SINCE LEARNED WAS 
NOT A "GREEN" 76-4:#, BUT A TACTIC USED TO FORCE EYEN 
GOVERNMENT TO PERMIT PUBLIC PRAYERS THE FIRST DAY OF 
BAIRAM.  WE HAVE HEARD OF SIMILAR DEMONSTRATIONS AT 
OTHER POLICE STATIONS AROUND THE CITY, FOR THE SAME 
PURPOSE. 
 
7.  POLICE-MUSLIM BROTHER "COOPERATION:"  AS WE BELIEVE 
IS DEMONSTRATED BY THE EVENTS IN ALEXANDRIA, THE 
SECURITY FORCES ARE IN DIALOGUE WITH MB LEADERS HERE: 
THE NEGOTIATIONS ATNSTATE SECURITY, FOR EXAMPLE, WERE 
CONDUCTED DIRECTLY BETWEEN GENERAL ABDEL HADI SAYED AND 
MOHAMED EL MARAGHI.  WE ALSO SURMISE THAT THE FORCES 
COUNTED ON THE ORGANIZATIONAL PROWESS, AND THE WELL-KNOWN 
DISCIPLINE, OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD TO HELP THEM KEEP 
ORDER.  WE NEVERTHELESS FIND THIS COOPERATION BETWEEN 
THE GOE AND A STILL-BANNED ORGANIZATION CURIOUS.  IN 
CONVERSATIONS ON THIS RATHER FINE POINT WITH EGYPTIAN 
CONTACTS WE HAVE HEARD TWO COMPLEMENTARY RATIONALES FOR 
THIS COOPERATION.  ALEX NDP PARTY CHIEF, MOHAMED ABDELLAH, 
IN COMMENTS REMINISCENT OF REMARKS ONE HEARS ABOUT THE 
CPUSA, INDICATED THAT THE MB MOVEMENT IN EGYPT IS 
THOROUGHLY PENETRATED, CONSISTS LARGELY OF OLDER 
FUNDAMENTALISTS AND IS NEITHER A DYNAMIC, NOR A 
DANGEROUS FORCE IN THE COUNTRY.  THE BUSINESSMAN QUOTED 
ABOVE (PARA 5), WHO HAS GOOD CONTACTS INSIDE THE SECURITY 
SERVICES, CLAIMS THAT THE MB'S ARE "QUIET" NOW 
(RELATIVE TO PAST TIMES, ONE PRESUMES).  HE FURTHER 
REPORTS THAT IT IS IN GOE INTEREST TO KEEP THE ORGANI- 
ZATION BANNED, AS THAT ALLOWS THE SECURITY FORCES TO 
MAINTAIN CLOSE TABS ON THE MOVEMENT.  COMMENT:  WE HAVE 
HEARD RUMORS THAT THE BAN ON THE BROTHERHOOD MIGHT BE 
LIFTED--BUT ALSO WORRIES EXPRESSED THAT THAT WOULD 
SEND THE WRONG SIGNAL TO BOTH THE RADICAL MUSLIMS AND 
THE GENERAL POPULATION.  WE IMAGINE THAT THE SECURITY 
CONCERNS NOTED HERE MUST WEIGH HEAVILY IN GOE CALCULA- 
TIONS ON THIS ISSUE.  END COMMENT. 
 
8.  "ISLAMIC GROUPS:"  WHAT DOES CONCERN THESE SAME TWO 
SOURCES IS "AL-GAMIAT AL-ISLAMIYYA" (ISLAMIC GROUPS), 
THE SHADOWY, RADICAL UNDERGROUND GROUPS WHICH OPERATE 
ON A CELL SYSTEM, ACCORDING TO ABDELLAH.  ABDELLAH 
SAYS THAT THE GOVERNMENT DOES NOT KNOW WHO THEY ARE, OR 
WHO LEADS THEM.  THE BUSINESSMAN SAYS THAT IT IS THESE 
GROUPS WHICH, AMONG OTHER THINGS, PUT THEIR FEMALES INTO 
FULL-FACE VEILS, AS NOTED ABOVE.  HE ALSO CLAIMS THAT 
THE GROUPS ARE COMPOSED OF THE URBAN POOR, UNABLE TO 
COMPETE IN THE DIFFICULT ENVIRONMENT OF CONTEMPORARY 
EGYPT. 
 
9.  COMMENT:  WE DO NOT WANT TO EXAGGERATE THE IMPORTANCE 
OF A GATHERING OF FIFTEEN THOUSAND PEOPLE IN A CITY OF 
THREE MILLION.  (THE ONLY MEDIA COVERAGE OF THIS EVENT 
WAS IN AN OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER, WHICH ALSO PUBLISHED TWO 
PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE GATHERING.  A COPY HAS BEEN POUCHED 
TO INR AND NEA/EGY).  NOR CAN WE EXPLAIN WHY SUCH A 
MASSIVE DEFIANCE OF MINISTRY ROUCHDY'S DECREE OCCURRED 
ONLY IN ALEXANDRIA, NOT IN CAIRO (OR ELSEWHERE IN EGYPT, 
TO THE BEST OF OUR KNOWLEDGE).  WE SURMISE THAT, AT 
LEAST AS REGARDS ALEXANDRIA, THE SECURITY FORCES CAME 
TO BELIEVE THAT A CONTROLLED GATHERING--EVEN ONE WHICH 
COMPLETELY BLOCKED ALEXANDRIA'S MAIN STREET--WAS 
PREFERABLE TO A POTENTIALLY VIOLENT, UNCONTROLLED EVENT, 
WHATEVER THE LEGAL TECHNICALITIES.  IN THIS REGARD, 
THE MB'S BOTH SERVED GOE PURPOSES AND PROVIDED A VENUE 
FOR AL-GAMIAT AL-ISLAMIYYA--WHICH THEY WOULD HPXVE NEVER 
BEEN ABLE TO OBTAIN THEMSELVES FROM THE GOVERNMENT. 
DESPITE THE EARLY HOUR OF THE SIDI GABER GATHERING, THE 
FACT OF ITS OCCURRENCE IS KNOWN THROUGHOUT THE CITY, 
AND HAS PROVOKED WORRIED COMMENTS FROM SOME OF OUR 
CONTACTS--USUALLY ALONG THE LINES THAT, "THE GOVERNMENT 
SHOULD CRACK-DOWN ON THESE PEOPLE."  WITHIN THE LIMITS OF 
RATHER SEVERE PERSONNEL CONSTRAINTS, WE SHALL ATTEMPT 
TO EXPAND OUR REPORTING ON FUNDAMENTALISM IN EGYPT'S 
SECOND CITY.  END COMMENT. 
 
 
COOK 

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