This website is no longer actively maintained
Some material and features may be unavailable

The Daily Need

WikiLeaks cables: Political protests are not part of the ‘Egyptian mentality’

Egyptian activists burn a poster showing Gamal Mubarak, the son of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, during a protest in Cairo back in 2010. Photo: AP

The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks posted a batch of diplomatic cables on Friday detailing Egypt’s use of a decades-old “emergency law” to restrict freedom of expression, the regime’s efforts to portray itself as America’s “indispensable Arab ally” and President Hosni Mubarak’s plan to position his son, Gamal, as his eventual successor. The dispatches were released as massive protests rocked the country and set up violent clashes with Egypt’s state police.

The cables also contained some striking details regarding the regime’s view of Egypt’s opposition parties, the role of the military in securing a peaceful transfer of power and the eventual prospects for long-sought democratic reforms. A former official of the ruling National Democratic Party and minister in Mubarak’s cabinet, for example, called the country’s opposition movement “weak” and described democracy as a “long term goal” in one diplomatic memo from 2009.

The ruling party insider, Ali El Deen Hilal Dessouki, is also quoted as assuring U.S. diplomats that the Egyptian military would “ensure a smooth transfer of power, even to a civilian” — a reference to the youngest of the 81-year-old Mubarak’s two sons, Gamal Mubarak, a former international banker who has in recent years asserted his political influence in the country more aggressively.

The Egyptian military is seen in the cables as central to the moderate government’s political stability, which is now being challenged by protesters who have defied Mubarak’s regime and clashed with state police across the country. The protests are inspired in part by the revolution in nearby Tunisia, where activists have successfully ended the decades-long rule of authoritarian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. In the cables, Dessouki and other Egyptian officials are seen as dismissing the possibility that similar strife could take hold in Egypt.

“Widespread politically motivated unrest, he said, was not likely because it was not part of the ‘Egyptian mentality’,” U.S. diplomats wrote of a 2009 meeting with Dessouki. “Threats to daily survival, not politics, were the only thing to bring Egyptians to the streets en masse.”

Egyptian officials also assured their American allies in the cables that the country’s security forces would be capable of quashing any pro-democracy protests that might break out around the 2011 presidential elections, which are scheduled for later this year. “The real center of power in Egypt is the military,” Dessouki is quoted as telling U.S. officials.

The conventional wisdom that Egypt’s military wields most of the political influence in the country — and that it would ensure a smooth transition of power to Mubarak’s son — is now being challenged by the protests, which have roiled the country and suggest that some degree of political reform may be unavoidable. There are already conflicting — and unconfirmed — reports, for example, that Gamal Mubarak has fled Egypt for the United Kingdom, casting doubt on his position as Egypt’s heir apparent.

The cables also contain details regarding the Egyptian regime’s use of a decades-old “emergency law” to suppress opposition activity and critical opinion. Egypt has been under an almost-continuous “state of emergency” since 1967, giving the regime broad powers to restrict freedom of expression and assembly and detain suspects indefinitely, without cause. Security forces have used the emergency powers, for example, to crack down on Egyptian bloggers. As one U.S. official noted in a 2009 cable, “the role of bloggers as a cohesive activist movement has largely disappeared, due to a more restrictive political climate.”

  • thumb
    Egypt in transition
    Although it is unclear what authority Mohammed Morsi will have, his win is considered a huge victory for the Muslim Brotherhood. Watch our report from earlier this year, when correspondent Mona Iskander talked to regular Egyptians about their fears, hopes and dreams for their country's future.
  • thumb
    Clinton visits Burma
    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a historic visit to Burma this week, recognizing the country's incremental reforms and setting the stage for an end to the country's long period of isolation.
  • thumb
    Can democracy thrive in Egypt?
    Egyptians on Monday began the lengthy process of choosing their first civilian government since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. But it remained unclear whether the military would give up power.


  • Agnes Anna

    Egypts young generation looks upp to America and the West, to start with human rights, decent education all over the country and social harmony between different religions. They put there hope on the West, they use internet to find out how the West thinks and acts, they hunger for our freedom and rights to grow and create a better future for Egypts next generations.
    This hope is growing, sinds many years now, the explosion in the streets of Cairo is not just to follow the example of Tunesia, it is more to be the fundation of ‘change’, they have the example of president Obama in America and his succes all over the world with his vision …
    Change is possible they beleve, and hope.
    When the military and policeforces keeps on using their power at the demonstrations it will become a massacre.
    It is now or never for the young ones, when they give upp now they know they will never get the chance again becourse it is not in their Egyptian nature to come out their shell and speek, or demand, freely what’s on their chest. Social and military surpression make them to keep their mound closed.
    For them it is now or never, they wont return to their homes untill their fundamental human rights are respected and to know there will be ‘change’ in Egypt, the way president Obama lounched in the US.
    They need help from the Western world, to bring security and stability in their country untill a total new gouvernement, elected by them, is instaled.
    The fear from fundamentalists to take over is big. That is not wat they want, ‘we are not Arabs’ they told me ‘we are Egyptians’ and that’s what they want to stay, not under the influence of Arabic countrys but to go their own way on Western example.

    So it is much complicated as it seems, their needs are based on Western model to progres, to lay the fundations of an intire new Egypt.
    They wont give upp now, and there queeste is worh to give their lifes for this for a democratic Egypt based on human rights, for themselves and future generations.
    Egyptian young people are proud to be Egyptian, they live between what ever was the beginning of civilisation and stability thousends off years ago, that makes them different and difficult to compare with the rest off the Arabic world …

    I hope their dream may come true by international and Western help.