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2005-07-17 14:37:00
Embassy Cairo
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 CAIRO 005447 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/17/2015

Classified by: Charge d'Affaires Michael Corbin for reasons
1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (U) July 13, 2005; 2:30 p.m.; Cairo, Egypt

2. (U) Participants:

The Deputy Secretary
Charge d'Affaires Michael Corbin
PDAS Elizabeth Cheney
Deputy Spokesman J. Adam Ereli
D Executive Assistant Ross Wilson
D Special Assistant Eugenia Sidereas
Ian McCary (Embassy Cairo Notetaker)

Osama El-Ghazali Harb, Shura Council Member
Mahmoud Abaza, Wafd Party
Nagui El-Ghatrifi, Ghad Party
Ismail Serageldin, Director, Alexandria Library
Bahey Eddin Ibrashy, Attorney
Abdel Moneim Said, Al Ahram Center for Strategic Studies
Hassan Sawaf, Businessman and Commentator
Hisham Kassem, Publisher and Ghad Party official
Hoda Badran, Alliance of Arab Women

3. (C) Summary: In a 70-minute meeting, the Deputy Secretary
heard a range of views on the state of political reform, the
outlook for the elections, and the role the U.S. should play
in promoting democracy from a group of nine Egyptians drawn
from opposition parties, civil society organizations, and
think tanks. There was praise for Secretary Rice's June 20
speech at the American University of Cairo, debate over how
the GOE should deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, disagreement
also over the value of conditionalizing assistance, and some
doubts expressed over the long term commitment of the U.S. to
promote democracy in the region. Thanking the group for
sharing their views, Deputy Secretary Zoellick noted that the
USG recognizes that it does not have all the answers, and
understands that changes must come from within societies and
cannot be successfully imposed from abroad. At the same
time, he continued, the U.S. believes there are many ways it
can help promote democracy in the region, and assured his
guests that they should not doubt U.S. resolve on this
matter, a point echoed by PDAS Cheney. End summary.

4. (C) Welcoming his guests to the Embassy residence, Deputy
Secretary Zoellick offered condolences on the recent murder

of Ambassador Ihab el-Sheriff, Egypt's envoy to Iraq. He
noted that in a meeting the day before, Iraqi Prime Minister
Jaffari underlined the importance Baghdad assigns to
strengthening its relationship with Egypt. The Deputy
Secretary affirmed USG interest in recent political

developments inside Egypt, said that President Mubarak's
decision to open the political process had been an important
first step, and believed that the coming months will be
important for the country's future direction over the long
term. He solicited their thoughts and advice on what the
U.S. should look for and expect in the lead up to elections
this fall.


S AUC Speech on the Right Track


5. (C) Nagui El-Ghatrifi of the Ghad Party complimented
Secretary Rice's June 20 speech at the American University of

Cairo (AUC) and opined that her remarks compared favorably
with the report on democratic change in Egypt issued earlier
this spring by former Congressman Weber and former Secretary
Albright. The latter report, Ghatrifi opined, put too much
emphasis on the GOE's preconditions for reform - it must be
gradual, it cannot be in response to outside pressure, etc. -
while Secretary Rice's speech emphasized what democracy
advocates expect of the GOE - to allow political parties to
campaign without harassment, to invite international
observers, to conduct transparent elections, etc. The U.S.
approach, as reflected in the Secretary's speech at AUC, was
on target, he believed.


Institutionalizing Reform


6. (C) Bahey Eddin Ibrashy, an attorney and board member of
Egypt's Ibn Khaldoun Center for Development Studies, believed
that the key to advancing political reform in Egypt was in
allowing democracy advocates to institutionalize and conduct
their activities in a free manner. He opined that the Muslim
Brotherhood (MB), "the only political force in Egypt that has
a strong base in society," should be allowed, under certain
circumstances, to operate as a legal entity. This would
enable the MB to become a player in a democratic system and
make its policies more moderate and responsible.

7. (C) Hisham Kassem, a publisher and Ghad Party official,
wondered why Ibrashy stressed the need to lift restrictions
only on the MB. Other political parties, which operate as
legal entities now, are nonetheless not allowed to engage
freely in political activities. The GOE's relentless
harassment of the Ghad Party is prime example, he asserted.
The reason the MB is strong, Kassem continued, is that the
GOE has shut down other avenues for political activity. The
only platforms remaining have been the regime and the mosque.
Extending legitimacy to the MB would be dangerous and
counterproductive if it did not come in the context of a
broader opening of the political system, Kassem stressed.


Conditionality: Pros and Cons


8. (C) Hassan Sawaf, a businessman and commentator strongly
critical of the GOE, asserted that U.S. assistance to Egypt,
in the past three decades, has had an "insidious effect" in
shoring up a government he characterized as composed of
"thugs and bandits." Sawaf opined that Congressman Lantos'
proposal to cut U.S. assistance to Egypt did not go far
enough. If the U.S. is serious about realizing political
reform, Sawaf believed, it should tell Mubarak that unless
the GOE makes dramatic improvements, such as lifting the
Emergency Law, the U.S. will simply cut off its aid. "Doing
anything less would be a waste of time," he concluded.

9. (C) Ismail Serageldin, Director of the Alexandria Library,
took strong exception to Sawaf's approach. Conditionality on
assistance always yields a tangible increase in resentment,
without tangible gains, he asserted. The challenge of
changing an entrenched regime is not a unique phenomenon to
Egypt, Serageldin continued, the PRI ruled Mexico for over 70
years before seeing successful change. The only effective
agent of change is a vibrant civil society, the presence or
absence of which helps explain the differences between
northern and southern Italy, he observed. Egypt's civil
society remains weak, Serageldin lamented, even in comparison
with other developing countries like India. Building a
vibrant civil society will bring about long term change in
Egypt, he asserted. Twenty-eight years at the World Bank had
taught him that meaningful change in societies comes from

10. (C) Abdel Moneim Said of the Al-Ahram Center for
Strategic Studies echoed Serageldin's rejection of
conditionality for assistance. He was optimistic that this
year would see further democratic developments, noting a
newly issued court decision that may advance the moderate
Islamist Wasat Party's chances for legal recognition. He
also noted that this year a "legitimate" coalition of
Egyptian civil society organizations has been formed to
monitor the elections, and he predicted that domestic
election monitors would encounter significantly less
resistance than they have in previous elections. Egypt's top
priority, Said opined, was to make this fall's elections as
clean and open as possible. He also hoped Egypt's leaders
would encourage more public debate on critical but neglected
issues, such as the relationship between the state and
religion, and the residue of socialist governance structures,
like a quota system for "peasants" and "workers" in


Egypt's Unique History


11. (C) Mahmoud Abaza of the Wafd Party welcomed Serageldin's
comparative approach in analyzing Egypt's conditions, but
emphasized Egypt's "specific and unique history." Egypt's
institutions of democratic governance, like its parliaments
and court systems, predate any others in the world outside
Europe and North America, he asserted. The debate over the
nature of governance in Egypt is not new, Abaza observed,
history must not be ignored if progress is to be realized.
Although Egypt's tradition of political pluralism has
withered in recent decades, he stated, the people must be
brought back into the process. Egyptians must take advantage
of existing institutions, like its independent press, and
work to restore the rule of law. A new "modus operandi" for
realizing democratic change must be forged, Abaza continued,
but it must not result in a (destructive) revolution.

12. (C) Regarding the MB, Abaza recalled that his Wafd Party
has been involved in a long-term dialogue with them. The MB
must clarify its positions on key issues, in order to move
beyond its current stalemate with the GOE, he asserted. They
must clarify whether they truly aspire to political party
status, whether they are willing to abandon positions
inconsistent with democracy, and how they propose to relate
to their international organization. The reason the GOE is
not reforming itself is simple, Abaza offered: it is a one
party system, with a fusing of party and state, and a
president with almost unlimited powers presiding over one of
the oldest bureaucracies in the world. The best hope for
changing this situation, Abaza believed, is to allow a truly
representative parliament to emerge from a "correct electoral


Arab Women, the MB, and Assistance


13. (C) Hoda Badran of the Alliance for Arab Women expressed
concern that the U.S. sent confusing and inconsistent signals
about its commitment to promoting democracy in the region.
Sometimes USG officials appear to be taking a strong line on
democracy with Arab governments and sometimes they appear
willing to accept gradualism and half-measures. Regarding
the MB, Badran expressed apprehension, as a woman, about the
impact on social development of a greater political role for
Islamists. Badran affirmed that she sided with those who
opposed conditionality in assistance, which she believed
complicated issues with no clear benefit. Assistance is
provided on the basis of solidarity, not charity, she


Questions on U.S. Commitment


14. (C) Gehad Ouda, a dean of Helwan University and a
prolific writer, worried that the issue of democracy may
prove to have a "short shelf life" in Egypt. Recent
modifications to laws governing political life were not
encouraging, he opined. Liberals in Egypt must find ways to
bridge the gap between intellectuals and the masses and
establish structures that can support the political reform
process. Ouda added that the U.S., like any country, must
balance its ideals, like spreading democracy, against its
more narrow national interests. While striking such a
balance is legitimate, Ouda opined, "we do not have clear
sign posts and we do not know what the parameters are." Ouda
hoped that the U.S. agenda from promoting freedom and
democracy in the Arab world would be more clearly defined.

15. (C) Ossama El-Ghazaly Harb, a Shura council member,
believed that Egypt is witnessing an historic moment that
could yield dramatic changes. Egyptian advocates of
democracy, however, were worrying about the level of U.S.
determination to stand behind this cause. Referencing Deputy
Secretary Zoellick's recent visit to Sudan, Harb believed it

telling that dramatic changes to Sudan's political structure
were taking place due to a combination of both internal and
external factors.


An American View


16. (C) Deputy Secretary Zoellick responded that he took note
of the concern and questions about the USG's long term
commitment to promoting democratic change in the Arab world.
He said such questioning is inevitable, but it would not
deter us. The U.S. does not have all the answers, and we
recognize that we must respect what we do not know as well as
what we do know. The Deputy Secretary agreed that
conditionality generally does not work and can sometimes
backfire. The U.S. is also sensitive to the fact that
circumstances vary significantly from country to country and
that ultimately decisions leading to change must be made
locally if there is to be ownership of the change.

17. (C) While some continue to believe that the prospect of
democratic transition in the region will prove to be a "false
dawn," many others are indicating a real sense of change, the
Deputy Secretary observed. Significant developments, such as
the issuance of the Alexandria Declaration, the Arab Human
Development Report, and the candid assessments of Egypt's new
National Human Rights Council were indicators of this change,
he added. The U.S. recognizes its limitations, but also
believes it can take steps to assist regional transition, for
example by stimulating debate and by offering assistance,
direct and indirect, to local agents of democratic change.
The U.S. will pay close attention to Egypt's electoral
processes this year, he continued, recognizing that this
fall's legislative elections are of particular significance
to the country's direction in the coming years. There is
reason to hope, he added, that the democratic transition will
take on a momentum of its own, the Deputy Secretary opined.
The U.S. will be watching for signs of improvement in the
conduct of Egypt's elections, the Deputy Secretary continued,
noting the freedom to campaign and organize without
harassment as key indicators.

19. (C) PDAS Cheney added her thanks to the group and
stressed that Egyptians should not doubt the USG's strong
commitment to promoting democracy and freedom in the region.
President Bush has been as direct and clear on this subject
as any U.S. President ever has been, she added. Referring to
concerns about the consistency in tone of USG statements,
PDAS Cheney urged the Egyptians "to watch what we do as much
as what we say."

20. (U) Deputy Secretary Zoellick has cleared this message.

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