Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09CAIRO874 2009-05-19 12:12 2011-01-31 21:09 SECRET Embassy Cairo
O 191258Z MAY 09
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2465
S E C R E T CAIRO 000874
NEA FOR FO; NSC FOR KUMAR AND SHAPIRO
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/17/2019
TAGS: PREL PGOV KDEM ECON EG IS IR IZ
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER: PRESIDENT MUBARAK'S VISIT TO
Classified By: Ambassador Margaret Scobey
for reasons 1.4(b) and (d).
¶1. (S/NF) Introduction: President Mubarak last visited
Washington in April 2004, breaking a twenty year tradition of
annual visits to the White House. Egyptians view President
Mubarak's upcoming meeting with the President as a new
beginning to the U.S.-Egyptian relationship that will restore
a sense of mutual respect that they believe diminished in
recent years. President Mubarak has been encouraged by his
initial interactions with the President, the Secretary, and
Special Envoy Mitchell, and understands that the
Administration wants to restore the sense of warmth that has
traditionally characterized the U.S.-Egyptian partnership.
The Egyptians want the visit to demonstrate that Egypt
remains America's "indispensible Arab ally," and that
bilateral tensions have abated. President Mubarak is the
proud leader of a proud nation. He draws heavily from his
own long experience in regional politics and governance as he
assesses new proposals and recommendations for change.
¶2. (S/NF) Mubarak is 81 years old and in reasonably good
health; his most notable problem is a hearing deficit in his
left ear. He responds well to respect for Egypt and for his
position, but is not swayed by personal flattery. Mubarak
peppers his observations with anecdotes that demonstrate both
his long experience and his sense of humor. The recent death
of his grandson Mohammad has affected him deeply and
undoubtedly will dampen his spirits for the visit which he
very much wants to make. During his 28 year tenure, he
survived at least three assassination attempts, maintained
peace with Israel, weathered two wars in Iraq and post-2003
regional instability, intermittent economic downturns, and a
manageable but chronic internal terrorist threat. He is a
tried and true realist, innately cautious and conservative,
and has little time for idealistic goals. Mubarak viewed
President Bush (43) as naive, controlled by subordinates, and
totally unprepared for dealing with post-Saddam Iraq,
especially the rise of Iran,s regional influence.
¶3. (S/NF) On several occasions Mubarak has lamented the U.S.
invasion of Iraq and the downfall of Saddam. He routinely
notes that Egypt did not like Saddam and does not mourn him,
but at least he held the country together and countered Iran.
Mubarak continues to state that in his view Iraq needs a
"tough, strong military officer who is fair" as leader. This
telling observation, we believe, describes Mubarak's own view
of himself as someone who is tough but fair, who ensures the
basic needs of his people.
¶4. (S/NF) No issue demonstrates Mubarak,s worldview more
than his reaction to demands that he open Egypt to genuine
political competition and loosen the pervasive control of the
security services. Certainly the public "name and shame"
approach in recent years strengthened his determination not
to accommodate our views. However, even though he will be
more willing to consider ideas and steps he might take
pursuant to a less public dialogue, his basic understanding
of his country and the region predisposes him toward extreme
caution. We have heard him lament the results of earlier
U.S. efforts to encourage reform in the Islamic world. He
can harken back to the Shah of Iran: the U.S. encouraged him
to accept reforms, only to watch the country fall into the
hands of revolutionary religious extremists. Wherever he has
seen these U.S. efforts, he can point to the chaos and loss
of stability that ensued. In addition to Iraq, he also
reminds us that he warned against Palestinian elections in
2006 that brought Hamas (Iran) to his doorstep. Now, we
understand he fears that Pakistan is on the brink of falling
into the hands of the Taliban, and he puts some of the blame
on U.S. insistence on steps that ultimately weakened
Musharraf. While he knows that Bashir in Sudan has made
multiple major mistakes, he cannot work to support his
removal from power.
¶5. (S/NF) Mubarak has no single confidante or advisor who can
truly speak for him, and he has prevented any of his main
advisors from operating outside their strictly circumscribed
spheres of power. Defense Minister Tantawi keeps the Armed
Forces appearing reasonably sharp and the officers satisfied
with their perks and privileges, and Mubarak does not appear
concerned that these forces are not well prepared to face
21st century external threats. EGIS Chief Omar Soliman and
Interior Minister al-Adly keep the domestic beasts at bay,
and Mubarak is not one to lose sleep over their tactics.
Gamal Mubarak and a handful of economic ministers have input
on economic and trade matters, but Mubarak will likely resist
further economic reform if he views it as potentially harmful
to public order and stability. Dr. Zakaria Azmi and a few
other senior NDP leaders manage the parliament and public
¶6. (S/NF) Mubarak is a classic Egyptian secularist who hates
religious extremism and interference in politics. The Muslim
Brothers represent the worst, as they challenge not only
Mubarak,s power, but his view of Egyptian interests. As
with regional issues, Mubarak, seeks to avoid conflict and
spare his people from the violence he predicts would emerge
from unleashed personal and civil liberties. In Mubarak,s
mind, it is far better to let a few individuals suffer than
risk chaos for society as a whole. He has been supportive of
improvements in human rights in areas that do not affect
public security or stability. Mrs. Mubarak has been given a
great deal of room to maneuver to advance women's and
children's rights and to confront some traditional practices
that have been championed by the Islamists, such as FGM,
child labor, and restrictive personal status laws.
¶7. (S/NF) The next presidential elections are scheduled for
2011, and if Mubarak is still alive it is likely he will run
again, and, inevitably, win. When asked about succession, he
states that the process will follow the Egyptian
constitution. Despite incessant whispered discussions, no one
in Egypt has any certainty about who will eventually succeed
Mubarak nor under what circumstances. The most likely
contender is presidential son Gamal Mubarak (whose profile is
ever-increasing at the ruling party); some suggest that
intelligence chief Omar Soliman might seek the office, or
dark horse Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa might
run. Mubarak's ideal of a strong but fair leader would seem
to discount Gamal Mubarak to some degree, given Gamal's lack
of military experience, and may explain Mubarak's hands off
approach to the succession question. Indeed, he seems to be
trusting to God and the ubiquitous military and civilian
security services to ensure an orderly transition.
MUBARAK'S EGYPT: 1982 -- 2009
¶8. (C) Egypt continues to be a major regional economic,
political, and cultural power. However, economic problems
have frustrated many Egyptians. Egypt's per capita GDP was
on par with South Korea's 30 years ago; today it is
comparable to Indonesia's. There were bread riots in 2008
for the first time since 1977. Political reforms have
stalled and the GOE has resorted to heavy-handed tactics
against individuals and groups, especially the Muslim
Brotherhood, whose influence continues to grow.
¶9. (SBU) Economic reform momentum has slowed and high GDP
growth rates of recent years have failed to lift Egypt's
lower classes out of poverty. High inflation, coupled with
the impact of the global recession, has resulted in an
increase in extreme poverty, job losses, a growing budget
deficit and projected 2009 GDP growth of 3.5% - half last
¶10. (S/NF) Mubarak himself refuses to discuss economic
assistance to Egypt, but other interlocutors may raise it.
On May 7, Egypt formally and publicly accepted FY 2009 and FY
2010 assistance levels, ending a stalemate over the FY 2009
program, linked to levels, a perceived lack of consultation,
and political conditionality. Based on our assessment of
Egypt's most pressing assistance needs, and broad public
consensus in Egypt that the educational system is seriously
deficient, we would like to focus on education. We believe
the Egyptians would welcome a new presidential level
initiative in this area, which would also be in U.S. national
interests given the critical role education will play in
Egypt's political and economic development.
MUBARAK'S REGIONAL OUTLOOK
¶11. (S/NF) Israeli-Arab conflict: Mubarak has successfully
shepherded Sadat,s peace with Israel into the 21st century,
and benefitted greatly from the stability Camp David has
given the Levant: there has not been a major land war in more
than 35 years. Peace with Israel has cemented Egypt,s
moderate role in Middle East peace efforts and provided a
political basis for continued U.S. military and economic
assistance ($1.3 billion and $250 million, respectively).
However, broader elements of peace with Israel, e.g. economic
and cultural exchange, remain essentially undeveloped.
¶12. (S/NF) Camp David also presented Mubarak with the
perpetual challenge of balancing Egypt,s international image
as a moderate with its domestic image as pan-Arab leader.
Mubarak has managed this strategic dichotomy most effectively
in times of regional stability. However, the Gulf wars, and
especially post-Saddam regional crises, have taxed this
equation. For example, during the 2006 Lebanon war, the Bush
Administration asked Egypt to side against Hizballah; at the
same time Egyptian protestors demanded the peace treaty with
Israel be vacated. The Egyptians were frozen, and relegated
to waiting for the situation to stabilize. More recently,
with Iran bringing the battlefield closer with Hamas' actions
in Gaza and discovery of the Hizballah cell in Egypt, the
Egyptians appear more willing to confront the Iranian
surrogates and to work closely with Israel.
¶13. (S/NF) Mubarak has been effective as an intermediary
during various phases of the Israeli-Arab conflict. In the
Arafat era, Egypt worked between the Palestinian Authority
and Israel. At the outset of the Abbas era, Egypt,s role
was unclear as the Israelis and Palestinians communicated
directly, and Mubarak for a time was left with no deliverable
either to the West or his public. He firmly believes,
incorrectly, that the Bush Administration "forced" the
Palestinian legislative elections of 2006 (which Hamas won).
Hamas' June 2007 takeover of Gaza allowed the Egyptians back
into the game as a go-between, and Mubarak,s team has made
clear they will not cede the "Palestinian file" to another
Arab state. In general, the Egyptian-Israeli strategic
relationship is on solid ground, as they face a shared threat
¶14. (S/NF) The ongoing intra-Arab dispute, which pits Egypt
and Saudi Arabia against Syria and Qatar and is primarily
driven by Iran's regional influence, is the current test for
Mubarak. For the moment the Egyptian-Saudi moderate camp is
holding. Mubarak has maneuvered with reasonable
effectiveness, brandishing Egyptian clout through a hastily
prepared but effective summit in Sharm el Sheikh in February,
but Iran,s Arab surrogates (especially Qatar) continue to
unsettle the Egyptians. Mubarak will rail against President
Bush,s decision to invade Iraq, contending that it opened
the door to Iranian influence in the region. That said, the
Egyptians recently told Special Envoy Ross they expect our
outreach to Iran to fail, and that "we should prepare for
confrontation through isolation." Mubarak and his advisors
are now convinced that Tehran is working to weaken Egypt
through creation of Hizballah cells, support of the Muslim
Brotherhood, and destabilization of Gaza. Egypt has warned
that it will retaliate if these actions continue.
¶15. (S/NF) Egypt views the stability and unity of Sudan as
essential to its national security because of concern over
its access to Nile waters and the potential for increased
Sudanese refugee flows. The GOE is using development
assistance in South Sudan to encourage unity. Here too, the
Egyptians are jealous and sensitive to the Qatari foray into
resolving Darfur, a crisis squarely in Egypt's backyard.
Mubarak may ask about the potential for cooperation with the
U.S. on Sudan and will probably want to hear how the
Administration will approach the issue. If he agrees,
Mubarak can use his stature and credibility with Bashir to
make progress on Darfur and human rights issues.
¶16. (S/NF) MUBARAK REGIONAL TALKING POINTS
Israeli-Arab peace: He will ask for continued U.S. leadership and highlight Egypt’s role as moderate interlocutor. He will stress the primacy of the Palestinian track over efforts with Syria. He will press for concrete action on settlements and resist Arab gestures to Israel until the Arabs can see whether or not Netanyahu is credible.
Iran: He will rail against Iranian regional influence and express pessimism about U.S. outreach to Tehran. He will make clear that there should be no linkage between Israeli-Arab peace and Iran but will agree with the President’s assessment that such linkage as does exist argues for progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track to undermine Hamas and Hizballah.
Sudan: He will highlight Egypt’s role as provider of humanitarian and military assistance, and stress the need to maintain stability.
Intra-Arab strife: He may criticize Qatar, and perhaps Syria, as Iranian surrogates. He may ask about our plan to engage Damascus and suggest we coordinate our efforts.
Iraq: He may be circumspect, but harbors continuing doubts about Maliki and his Iranian ties. He will say Egypt is open to bilateral improvement but is awaiting Iraqi actions.