US embassy cable - 97CAIRO11981

EGYPT'S MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD - DOWN BUT NOT OUT

Identifier: 97CAIRO11981
Wikileaks: View 97CAIRO11981 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Cairo
Created: 1997-11-12 14:27:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PREL PGOV KISL PHUM PINR EG
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
P 121427Z NOV 97
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1151
INFO OIC COLLECTIVE
ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 CAIRO 011981 
 
 
PARIS FOR LEAF 
LONDON FOR TUELLER 
 
E.O. 12958:  DECL: 11/09/07 
TAGS: PREL, PGOV, KISL, PHUM, PINR, EG 
SUBJECT: EGYPT'S MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD - DOWN BUT NOT OUT 
 
1.  (U) CLASSIFIED BY POL/ECON MINISTER COUNSELOR 
JEFF MILLINGTON FOR REASON 1.5 (D). 
 
-------- 
SUMMARY 
-------- 
 
2.  (C) MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD AND JOURNALIST SYNDICATE 
MEMBERS MUHAMMAD ABD AL-QUDUS AND SALAH ABD AL-MAQSUD 
TOLD US RECENTLY THAT: 
 
--  THE LATEST MOVE IN THE GOVERNMENT'S ONGOING 
CAMPAIGN TO SUPPRESS THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD (MB) WAS 
THE ARRESTS IN AUGUST AND SEPTEMBER OF DOZENS OF MB 
STUDENT ACTIVISTS THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY.  THE 
GOVERNMENT'S INTENT WAS TO DETER ISLAMIC ACTIVISM ON 
CAMPUSES PRIOR TO THE ACADEMIC YEAR. 
 
--  THE MB WILL CONTINUE WITHIN THE JOURNALISTS 
SYNDICATE AND ELSEWHERE TO OPPOSE THOSE EGYPTIANS WHO 
ADVOCATE GREATER PEOPLE-TO-PEOPLE TIES WITH ISRAEL. 
 
--  EGYPT'S MB REMAINS IN CLOSE CONTACT WITH OFFICIALLY 
RECOGNIZED MB POLITICAL PARTIES IN JORDAN, YEMEN AND 
ALGERIA. 
 
3. (C) THE GOVERNMENT'S CONTINUING ARRESTS AND 
DETENTIONS OF MB MEMBERS HAS PUT THE ORGANIZATION, 
WHICH REMAINS ILLEGAL HERE, ON THE DEFENSIVE.  ITS 
LEAFLETS DECRY THE DETENTIONS WITHOUT TRIAL, AND SEEK 
OTHER OPPOSITION GROUPS' SUPPORT AGAINST THESE ABUSES 
OF POLITICAL FREEDOMS.  DESPITE ITS CURRENT WEAKNESS, 
HOWEVER, THE MB HAS ROOTS IN EGYPT AT ALL LEVELS OF 
SOCIETY AND A DEMONSTRATED CAPACITY TO SURVIVE 
GOVERNMENT CRACK-DOWNS. END SUMMARY. 
 
4.  (C) EMBOFF MET SEPARATELY WITH MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD 
LEADERS SALAH ABD AL-MAQSUD AND MUHAMMAD ABD AL-QUDUS 
NOVEMBER 6 AND 9.   BOTH ARE PROMINENT JOURNALISTS WHO 
WERE ELECTED TO THE 12-MEMBER BOARD OF THE JOURNALISTS 
SYNDICATE AND WRITE EDITORIALS FOR THE ISLAMIC 
OPPOSITION PRESS (MAINLY THE TWICE WEEKLY "AL-SHAAB" OF 
THE ISLAMIC SOCIALIST LABOR PARTY, AND THE WEEKLY 
"AL-HAQIQAH" OF THE ISLAMIC-ORIENTED LIBERAL PARTY). 
BOTH HAVE SERVED PRISON TIME FOR THEIR MEMBERSHIP IN 
THE MB, WHICH IS AN ILLEGAL ORGANIZATION IN EGYPT. 
 
------------------------------- 
PERCEIVED U.S. ANTI-MUSLIM BIAS 
------------------------------- 
 
5.  (C) ABD AL-QUDUS FOCUSED ON WHAT IS PERCEIVED IN 
THE EGYPTIAN STREET AS A BIAS IN U.S. POLICY TOWARDS 
ISRAEL AND AGAINST MUSLIMS.  PRESSURING ARAB STATES TO 
ATTEND DOHA WAS ONE INDICATION, PER ABD AL-QUDUS.  HE 
UNDERSTOOD IN THEORY THE ECONOMIC BENEFIT TO THE ARABS 
OF DOHA BUT REMAINED ADAMANTLY OPPOSED TO IT.  IF THE 
EGYPTIAN GOVERNMENT ATTENDED DOHA, THE EGYPTIANS IN THE 
STREET WOULD BE ANGRY, HE PREDICTED.  ANOTHER 
INDICATION IS THE APPOINTMENT OF AMERICAN JEWS TO 
POLICY-MAKING JOBS IN THE MIDDLE EAST.  EMBOFF ASKED 
HIM NOT TO PREJUDGE PERSONS BASED ON THEIR RELIGIOUS 
BACKGROUNDS, BUT TO FOCUS ON SPECIFIC DIFFERENCES WITH 
U.S. POLICY. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
GOVERNMENT CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
 
6.  (C)  BOTH MB MEMBERS COMPLAINED ABOUT CONTINUING 
GOVERNMENT PRESSURE ON THE PROFESSIONAL SYNDICATES. 
TWO YEARS AGO, FOLLOWING THE ELECTORAL SUCCESSES OF MB 
AND OTHER ISLAMIC-ORIENTED LEADERS IN THE SYNDICATES, 
THE GOVERNMENT TOOK STEPS TO SHUT THEM DOWN.  ONLY THE 
JOURNALISTS SYNDICATE IS CURRENTLY OPERATING UNDER ITS 
ELECTED BOARD.   (NOTE:  LAWYERS HAVE TOLD US THEY 
EXPECT NEW ELECTIONS FOR THEIR SYNDICATE IN NEXT 
APRIL).  THE JOURNALISTS SYNDICATE, ELECTED FAIRLY PER 
ABD AL-MAQSUD IN 1995, IS COMPOSED OF 2 MB MEMBERS, ONE 
EACH FROM THE NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY, NASSERIST, 
WAFD AND SOCIALIST TAGAMMU PARTIES, AND SIX 
INDEPENDENTS AMONG WHOM ARE SEVERAL ISLAMIC-ORIENTED 
WRITERS. 
 
7.  (C) ABD AL-MAQSUD DESCRIBED THE GOVERNMENT'S 
CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE MB:  IT STARTED IN EARLY 1995 WITH 
A SERIES OF ARRESTS AGAINST MB LEADERS IN THE 
SYNDICATES, LEADING TO A NOVEMBER 1995 MILITARY COURT 
JUDGMENT AGAINST 54 MB LEADERS.  THEY RECEIVED PRISON 
SENTENCES RANGING FROM THREE TO FIVE YEARS.  THE MAIN 
CHARGE - THAT THEY WERE PLOTTING THE OVERTHROW OF THE 
GOVERNMENT -- IS COMPLETELY FALSE, PER ABD AL-MAQSUD. 
THE MB BELIEVES IN BALLOT BOXES NOT VIOLENCE, HE 
STRESSED. 
 
8.  (C) THE GOVERNMENT SYSTEMATICALLY PREVENTS MB 
PARTICIPATION IN ELECTIONS, ACCORDING TO ABD AL-MAQSUD. 
IN THE 1995 PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS, 170 MB MEMBERS 
WERE CANDIDATES BUT NOT ONE WAS ELECTED OWING TO FRAUD, 
HE SAID.  IN THE APRIL 1997 LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS, 
AGAIN NOT ONE MB CANDIDATE WON.  THE GOVERNMENT USED 
PRESSURE TACTICS, INCLUDING ARRESTS AND DETENTIONS, TO 
FORCE MANY MB CANDIDATES TO WITHDRAW.  FINALLY, THE 
GOVERNMENT HAS ALREADY COOKED THE RESULTS OF NEXT 
MONTH'S NATION-WIDE UNIVERSITY STUDENT UNION ELECTIONS, 
ABOLISHING LISTS OF CANDIDATES WITH ISLAMIC LEADERS AND 
FORCING OTHERS TO WITHDRAW THEIR NAMES.  33 STUDENTS OF 
ALEXANDRIA UNIVERSITY WERE ARRESTED FOR BEING MB 
MEMBERS IN AUGUST, AND ANOTHER GROUP WAS ARRESTED IN 
SEPTEMBER PRIOR TO THE OPENING OF THE ACADEMIC YEAR, IN 
ORDER TO DETER ISLAMIC POLITICAL ACTIVITY ON CAMPUS. 
BOTH ABD AL-MAQSUD AND ABD AL-QUDUS SAID THAT NINE OF 
THE STUDENTS ARRESTED IN ALEXANDRIA WERE TORTURED IN 
PRISON (ABD-AL-QUDUS SHOWED EMBOFF A PAMPHLET ON THE 
ALLEGED TORTURE OF THESE STUDENTS, WHO HAVE SINCE BEEN 
RELEASED). 
 
9. (C) ABD AL-QUDUS SAID HE HAD HELPED FOUND IN 1996 
"THE COMMITTEE TO DEFEND PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE" 
COMPOSED OF DIVERSE OPPOSITION FIGURES FROM THE MB, 
SOCIALISTS, NASSERISTS AND WAFDISTS.   THE COMMITTEE, 
WHOSE HONORARY CHAIRMAN IS NOBEL PRIZE WINNER NAGUIB 
MAHFOUZ, DISTINGUISHES BETWEEN CONVICTED TERRORISTS 
FROM THE IG, WHOM IT DOES NOT HELP, AND PERSONS 
DETAINED UNDER MARTIAL LAW WITHOUT A CRIMINAL 
CONVICTION.  THE LATTER NUMBER OVER 20,000 PER 
ABD AL-QUDUS.  (COMMENT:  THIS IS UNDOUBTEDLY AN 
EXAGGERATED NUMBER, THOUGH THE NUMBER OF DETAINEES IS 
DIFFICULT TO DETERMINE.  HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS ESTIMATE A 
TOTAL PRISON POPULATION OF 32,000 INCLUDING THOSE 
SERVING SENTENCES AND THOSE BEING HELD PENDING TRIALS 
AND SENTENCES.  END COMMENT).  LEAFLETS PRINTED BY THE 
COMMITTEE EMPHASIZE ITS BROAD BASE OF OPPOSITION 
SUPPORT, AND LIST DETAINEES WHO REMAIN IN PRISON 
WITHOUT TRIAL. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD CAMPAIGNS AGAINST THE PRO-PEACE 
CAMP AND WASAT PARTY (BUT NOT THE COPTS) 
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
 
10.  (C) EMBOFF ASKED BOTH MB LEADERS ABOUT THEIR 
POSITION, AS ADVOCATES OF GREATER POLITICAL FREEDOMS, 
ON THE ATTEMPT OF THE JOURNALISTS' SYNDICATE TO 
DISCIPLINE SYNDICATE MEMBERS LUTFI AL-KHOLI AND OTHERS 
FOR ADVOCATING GREATER NORMALIZATION WITH ISRAEL. 
ISN'T THIS CONTRARY TO THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF 
EXPRESSION?  BOTH SAID THIS WAS NOT A FREEDOM OF 
EXPRESSION ISSUE BUT RATHER A QUESTION OF ADHERENCE TO 
A SYNDICATE GENERAL ASSEMBLY DECISION IN 1980 TO FORBID 
NORMALIZATION PRIOR TO A COMPLETE PEACE TREATY WITH ALL 
ARAB PARTIES. (NOTE:  AL-AHRAM WRITER LUTFI AL-KHOLI IS 
CONTESTING THIS SYNDICATE DECISION IN COURT FOR BEING 
CONTRARY TO THE EGYPTIAN CONSTITUTION'S GUARANTEE OF 
FREEDOM OF SPEECH.) 
 
11. (C) EMBOFF ALSO ASKED ABOUT THE MB'S APPARENT 
OPPOSITION TO THE ATTEMPT TO ESTABLISH A NEW POLITICAL 
PARTY ON ISLAMIC PRINCIPLES CALLED AL-WASAT (THE 
"MIDDLE"). ABD AL-MAQSUD SAID HE AND HIS WIFE HAD BEEN 
AMONG THE ORIGINAL 71 FOUNDERS OF AL-WASAT BUT WITHDREW 
FOLLOWING THE MB LEADERSHIP'S DECISION THAT THE MOMENT 
WAS NOT RIGHT FOR A POLITICAL PARTY.  HOW CAN WE HAVE A 
PARTY WHEN THE GOVERNMENT DOES NOT EVEN ALLOW US TO 
PUBLISH A NEWSPAPER, HE ASKED.  HE MINIMIZED THE 
IMPORTANCE OF THE FORMER MB MEMBERS WHO CONTINUE TO 
PURSUE THIS NEW PARTY. 
 
12. (C) ON THE ANTI-COPT STATEMENTS MADE BY MB SUPREME 
GUIDE MUSTAFA MASHOUR IN AN AL-AHRAM INTERVIEW LAST 
APRIL, ABD AL-MAQSUD DENIED THAT THIS WAS MB POLICY OR 
PRACTICE.  THERE WERE THREE COPTS IN THE MB LEADERSHIP 
AFTER WORLD WAR II, HE CLAIMED.  HE HIMSELF USED TO 
HAVE A COPT ROOMMATE AND HIS GREATEST ALLY IN THE 
JOURNALISTS SYNDICATE BOARD ELECTIONS WAS A COPT.  THE 
MB CONSIDERS COPTS EQUAL MEMBERS OF EGYPTIAN SOCIETY, 
HE INSISTED. 
 
-------------------------------------------- 
EGYPT MB TIES WITH COUNTERPARTS IN JORDAN, 
YEMEN AND ALGERIA 
-------------------------------------------- 
 
13. (C) ABD AL-MAQSUD NOTED THAT IN THREE COUNTRIES 
MUSLIM BROTHER GROUPS ARE LEGAL POLITICAL PARTIES:  THE 
ISLAMIC ACTION FRONT IN JORDAN; THE REFORM ("ISLAH") 
PARTY IN YEMEN, WHICH USED TO BE IN THE GOVERNING 
COALITION; AND THE MOVEMENT FOR A PEACEFUL SOCIETY 
("HAMAS") IN ALGERIA, WHICH CONTROLS FIVE GOVERNMENT 
MINISTRIES.  EGYPT'S MB IS IN CLOSE CONTACT WITH EACH 
OF THESE PARTIES, HE SAID.  (NOTE:  ABD AL-MUNEIM SAID, 
DIRECTOR OF AL-AHRAM CENTER, TOLD US THAT MAQSUD HOSTED 
A DELEGATION FROM ALGERIA'S HAMAS TO EGYPT FOR THE 
INTER-PARLIAMENTARY UNION MEETING HERE IN SEPTEMBER). 
OTHER LEGITIMATE ISLAMIC PARTIES IN TURKEY (REFAH) AND 
IN PAKISTAN ARE NOT MB AFFILIATES BUT DO MAINTAIN TIES 
WITH THE MB IN EGYPT, HE SAID. 
 
-------- 
COMMENT 
-------- 
 
14.  (C) THE EFFORTS OF ABD AL-MAQSUD AND 
ABD AL-QUDUS TO PORTRAY THE MB AS JUST ANOTHER 
POLITICAL ORGANIZATION THAT IS WILLING TO WORK IN A 
MULTI-PARTY SYSTEM SEEMS TO US TO BE A TACTICAL 
MANEOUVER RATHER THAN A SINCERE CONVERSION TO 
DEMOCRATIC PRACTICES.  THE GOVERNMENT, OF COURSE, IS 
NOT CONVINCED AND ALSO PROMINENT LEFT-WING OPPOSITION 
FIGURES ARE NOT AT ALL UNHAPPY WITH THE GOVERNMENT'S 
CRACK-DOWN ON THE MB.  THE ANTI-MB CROWD SAYS THE 
ORGANIZATION'S PHILOSOPHY WILL ALLOW IT TO REVERT TO 
VIOLENT ACTIVISM WHEN THE TIME IS APPROPRIATE. 
ACCORDING TO THEM, THE MB IS RELATIVELY WEAK RIGHT NOW 
AND THUS PRACTICING "DISSIMULATION" WHEN IT TALKS ABOUT 
DEMOCRACY.  "DISSIMULATION" IS A TRADITIONAL SHI'ITE 
DOCTRINE THAT HAS BEEN ADOPTED BY UNDERGROUND SUNNI 
GROUPS LIKE THE MB. 
 
15. (C) THOUGH THE GOVERNMENT HAS SUCCEEDED IN 
WEAKENING THE MB, WE DOUBT IT CAN SHUT DOWN THIS 
ORGANIZATION, WHICH HAS A 70-YEAR HISTORY IN EGYPT AND 
FOLLOWERS AT ALL LEVELS OF SOCIETY.  ONE INDICATION OF 
ITS DIVERSITY:  MUHAMMAD ABD AL-QUDUS, BORN INTO 
CAIRO'S ARISTOCRACY, SEEMS TO HAVE ADOPTED POLITICAL 
ISLAM AS A REACTION TO HIS FAMILY'S MILITANT 
SECULARISM.  HIS MATERNAL GRANDMOTHER, FATMA AL-YOUSEF, 
FOUNDED THE LEFT-WING WEEKLY "ROSE AL-YOUSEF" AND HIS 
FATHER, IHSAN ABD AL-QUDUS, WROTE NOVELS FAMOUS 
THROUGHOUT THE ARAB WORLD FOR PORTRAYING THE TRAVAILS 
OF MODERN ARAB WOMEN.  THE SON IS ALSO A RESPECTED 
WRITER OF THE INTELLIGENTSIA CLASS, WHOSE MEMBERS OF 
ALL PERSUASIONS MAINTAIN OLD SCHOOL TIES AND SIT 
TOGETHER CHATTING AMIABLY WHILE DISAGREEING WITH EACH 
OTHER ON VIRTUALLY EVERYTHING. 
END COMMENT. 
 
 
BATTLE 

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