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Viewing cable 10CAIRO237, El Baradei Returns to Cairo

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
10CAIRO237 2010-02-23 13:01 2011-01-28 00:12 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Cairo
VZCZCXRO0921
RR RUEHROV
DE RUEHEG #0237/01 0541343
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 231342Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0363
INFO ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 CAIRO 000237 
 
SIPDIS 
FOR D (L), NEA AND DRL 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 2035/02/23 
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM KDEM EG
SUBJECT: El Baradei Returns to Cairo 
 
REF: 10 CAIRO 215 
 
CLASSIFIED BY: Margaret Scobey, Ambassador; REASON: 1.4(B), (D) 
 
1. (C) Key Points: 
 
 
 
-- Thousands of supporters greeted former IAEA Chairman Mohammed El Baradei upon his return to Cairo. Beleaguered leaders of the 
opposition seem relieved at their ability to muster a show of 
support for El Baradei and enthusiastic about his potential impact. 
 
 
 
 
-- El Baradei is seen as an "independent" and viable alternative to 
a corrupt regime and an ineffectual opposition.  However, the 
mainstream opposition appears reluctant to claim him as their own 
"consensus candidate." 
 
 
 
-- In a television interview February 21, El Baradei criticized GOE 
corruption, election fraud, lack of political reform and failure to 
successfully address poverty and illiteracy. 
 
 
 
-- El Baradei met with Arab League Secretary Amre Moussa on 
February 22 and will begin to meet with political activists on 
February 23." 
 
 
 
-- NDP reaction and government media reaction focused on El 
Baradei's lack of political experience and doubts over his level of 
commitment.  Opinion makers in the independent media also see El 
Baradei as an outsider and appear wary to offer unqualified 
support. 
 
 
 
2. (C) Comment:  Mohammed El Baradei's presence on the political 
scene remains more notable than his message, which echoes existing 
opposition demands.  Yet El Baradei's sober and broad-ranging 
criticism of President Mubarak's regime, buttressed by his 
credentials as a Nobel Prize winner and former IAEA chairman, 
distinguished his message from that of largely ineffective 
opposition leaders.  Despite his reluctance to declare himself a 
candidate, he appears, for now, to have captured the imagination of 
some section of the secular elite that wants democracy but is wary 
of the popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood.  The significant 
challenge ahead is mustering credibility on the Egyptian "street." 
The NDP has thus far stepped back from previous attempts to 
demonize El, which had backfired.  The real political costs to the 
regime of embracing El Baradei are low, but President Mubarak is 
unlikely to receive the returning "national hero," his criticism a 
personal affront.  End Comment. 
 
 
 
--------------------------------- 
 
An Enthusiastic Welcome and Media Reaction 
 
-------------------------------- 
 
 
 
3. (SBU) On February 19, former IAEA Chairman Mohammed El Baradei arrived at Cairo airport to mark his return to Egypt.  According to several Embassy contacts and staff present at the airport 
"thousands" of supporters and activists greeted El Baradei warmly 
at the airport.  El Baradei's return was also marked by a boost in 
the number of his Facebook fans -- now more than seventy thousand 
-- and a flurry of reporting on his return in the independent 
media.  (Note:  The El Baradei for president Facebook page is run 
by XXXXXXXXXXXX, son of well known Egyptian 
XXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXX.  End Note.) On 
the opinion pages, journalists suggested that while El Baradei's 
welcome represented a hunger for political life previously 
repressed, they questioned the value of vague promises of change 
and El Baradei's real commitment to the process.  Government 
newspapers largely downplayed the importance of El Baradei's 
return, noting President Mubarak had extended to El Baradei the use 
of the airport's VIP lounge and confirmation that security services 
would be present to keep the peace.  Opinion pieces in the 
 
CAIRO 00000237  002 OF 004 
 
 
government owned or affiliated newspapers noted his "European 
style" of "brief and to the point answers," suggesting that El 
Baradei remained out of touch with Egyptians and unprepared for 
politics in Egypt.  Noting that he has rejected alignment with any 
of Egypt's political parties they also suggest El Baradei arrived 
without a real "political program." 
 
 
 
------------------------------ 
 
Activists Generally Optimistic 
 
------------------------------ 
 
 
 
4. (C) "April 6" leader Ahmed Salah, who was at the airport, told 
us he was "proud" his movement succeeded in helping to organize the 
group of supporters, which he estimated at around 3,000.  Salah 
said that "April 6" leader Ahmed Maher and activist XXXXXXXXXXXX, who were detained by police February 17-18 (ref A), also participated 
in the greeting.  Despite suggestions in the press that GOE 
security would maintain tight order and make arrests if necessary, 
Salah confirmed press reports of a limited security presence at the 
airport, saying the police "withdrew completely" from the airport. 
Salah acknowledged that the lack of police made the arrival 
somewhat chaotic, with supporters and journalists jostling each 
other to draw close to El Baradei.  El Baradei himself later 
confirmed in a media interview that he had decided not to stop and 
speak to the crowd because of the limited security presence, 
fearing people would be hurt. 
 
 
 
5. (C) Kifaya leader George Is'haq, himself over 60, told us he had 
been pleasantly surprised that those on hand to greet El Baradei 
belonged to the "younger generation," but said others of his 
generation were present.  Taking credit for efforts to get people 
to come to the airport, he noted that El Baradei's welcome marked a 
return to the kind of activism Kifaya had not been able to muster 
since 2006.  This he said was the first time they were able to 
mobilize people without the help or presence of the Muslim 
Brotherhood (MB).  (Note:  Individual members of the MB had been 
cooperating with Kifaya, "April 6" and others in several campaigns 
focused on drawing support before the 2010 parliamentary and 2011 
presidential elections, such as the Campaign for Free Elections and 
the Campaign Against Succession.  The MB also participated in 
Kifaya's pro-judge rallies during the 2005 elections.  End Note.) 
Is'haq suggested El Baradei's return fueled an optimism that had 
"revived" people's spirits.  Political commentator, Cairo 
University professor and head of the Ayman Nour-founded Coalition 
Against Succession Hassan Nafaa told Al Jazeera English urged 
public pressure on the GOE to enact the constitutional reforms 
outlined by El Baradei and said that Egypt is now "witnessing a new 
wave of political mobilization." 
 
 
 
6. (C) Civil society activist and Director of the Arab Center for 
the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession Nasser Amin 
said El Baradei represents a clean slate candidate, someone both 
untainted by possible collusion with the regime -- like other 
members of the opposition -- and untouched by accusations of wrong 
doing -- like 2005 presidential candidate Ayman Nour.  Commenting 
in the independent press, novelist and now frequent political 
commentator Alaa Al Aswani called enthusiasm about El Baradei 
evidence of an Egyptian desire for change, but warned that he 
should not be seen as a "savior." 
 
 
 
----------------------------- 
 
El Baradei and the Opposition 
 
----------------------------- 
 
 
 
7. (C) Mainstream opposition parties which regularly meet as what 
is known in Egypt as the "opposition coalition" (Al Wafd, the 
Democratic Front Party (DFP), Taggamou and the Nasserist Party) 
have not been able to reach consensus on El Baradei as a democratic 
activist or candidate.  Only DFP leader Osama Al Ghazali Harb has 
publically expressed enthusiasm about the impact of El Baradei's 
 
CAIRO 00000237  003 OF 004 
 
 
return to Cairo.  Harb told us the turnout at the airport was a 
sign of a "new political momentum" that would take "competition 
with the government to a new level."  Harb called El Baradei the 
right man at the right time, but underscored that his core message 
was the same as the long-standing demands from the opposition.  He 
called El Baradei an "international heavyweight" untouchable by 
government smear campaigns.  Press reports indicate that Harb is 
the only member of the four party coalition that supports El 
Baradei as a candidate.  However, there appears to be some internal 
debate within the Wafd party.  Wafd party members from Gharbiyya 
part of the group Wafdists Against Succession (not sanctioned by 
the party) were present at the airport to receive El Baradei.  That 
group's leader told the Egyptian daily El Shorouk that he and Wafd 
leaders Honorary President Mostafa El Taweel and VP Fouad Badrawy 
intend to seek their own meeting with El Baradei. 
 
 
 
8. (C) Al Ghad Party Vice President Wael Nawara told PolOff that he 
and others in the party welcomed El Baradei's political activism in 
Egypt.  Nawara added he would have liked to greet El Baradei at the 
airport, but was busy working to resolve internal party conflict 
after Ayman Nour's announcement on February 15 that he had been 
selected by Al Ghad as its presidential candidate.  Some in the 
party, including its president Ehab El Khouly, publically 
criticized this move as pre-empting Al Ghad's ability to support an 
opposition "consensus candidate" like El Baradei.  Nour's own 
comments about El Baradei have vacillated between statements of 
support and suggestions that he is only a "virtual candidate." 
Fellow Ghad party VP Gameela Ismail, Nour's estranged wife, was on 
hand to greet El Baradei and told the media she saw no 
contradiction in her support for El Baradei.  Ismail said she would 
stand behind coordinated opposition support for one presidential 
candidate whether EL Baradei or Nour. 
 
 
 
9. (C) El Baradei will meet on February 23 with Harb, XXXXXXXXXXXX, and XXXXXXXXXXXX  and other political activists.  Press reports indicate that Dr. Yehia El Gamal, well-known constitutional scholar and co-founder of the Democratic Front Party (DFP), will also ask El Baradei to join a group of scholars who seek to draft an alternative constitution for Egypt.  (Note:  El Gamal left the DFP 
after a clash with current President and co-founder Osama Al 
Ghazali Harb.  End Note.) 
 
 
 
---------------- 
 
In His Own Words 
 
---------------- 
 
 
 
10. (C) In his first public appearance since his return, Sunday, 
 February 21, El Baradei took part in a three hour interview on 
 Egyptian Satellite Channel Dream TV's program ten o'clock hosted by 
 Mona El Shazli.  Taking questions from callers El Baradei 
 reiterated his previous statements that he never intended to run in 
 the 2011 presidential elections but said he would run against 
 President Mubarak if needed constitutional changes were made and it 
 were in Egypt's interest to do so.  El Baradei reiterated his call 
 for constitutional reforms, particularly reform of Article 76 which 
 governs the selection of presidential candidates and which many 
 believe was tailor made for presidential son Gamal Mubarak, and 
 Article 88 which does not proscribe term limits.  (Note: El Baradei 
 has said he will not join a party; one of the criteria for 
 candidacy is senior membership in a party with at least one 
 representative in parliament, but he has not ruled out running as 
 an independent which would require the endorsement of 250 members 
 of parliament and the local councils, likely impossible because 
 both institutions are dominated by members of the ruling National 
 Democratic Party (NDP).  End Note) El Baradei also criticized 
 widespread election fraud in 2005 and criticized as "conspiracy 
 theory" that any other country (i.e., the U.S.) is capable of 
 selecting the president of another.  El Baradei criticized the 
 current regime, specifically President Mubarak, for leadership that 
 has led to a corrupt state characterized by a climate of fear that 
 was imposed by the security services.  He cited widespread 
 corruption, the failure to enact reforms to address the country's 
 high poverty and illiteracy rates, inability to address sectarian 
 tensions, and limited space for practice of political rights as the 
  
 CAIRO 00000237  004 OF 004 
  
  
 current regime's legacy. 
  
  
  
 ------------ 
  
 NDP Reaction 
  
 ------------ 
  
  
  
 11. (C) NDP reaction has been muted.  NDP MP and Political Science 
 Professor Gehad Ouda called in a comment during the El Baradei 
 television appearance and said El Baradei does not realize the 
 difficulty of the situation in Egypt, suggesting his criticisms 
 were off the mark as there are different types of democracy that 
 might be applied.  The evening following El Baradei's appearance on 
 her show, TV host Mona El Shazli reportedly told her audience that 
 she had received calls from the public accusing her of a pro-NDP 
 bias and calls from NDP members angry that she had given El Baradei 
 three hours of air time.  Dean of the Cairo University Faculty of 
 Economics and Political Science and member of the ruling NDP's 
 Policies Committee Alia Al Mahdy, told PolOff she remains close to 
 her predecessor Mona El Baradei (Mohammed El Baradei's sister) and 
 believes El Baradei intends to press for change but is unlikely to 
 actually run for president.  She said that she in others in the NDP 
 "respect" El Baradei but remain loyal to President Mubarak.  She 
 added that El Baradei's long absence from Egypt does not mean that 
 he does not understand Egypt well enough to run but that Egyptians 
 do not know him well enough to vote for him. 
  
  
  
 ------------------- 
  
 Meeting Amre Moussa 
  
 ------------------- 
  
  
  
 12. (SBU)  In his first public meeting following his arrival, El 
 Baradei met with Arab League Secretary General Amre Moussa whom he called a "personal friend."  The meeting was reported by the 
 independent media as having focused on the "future of Egypt."  El 
 Baradei gave no formal comment to the media after the meeting but 
 Amre Moussa reportedly said that all Egyptians were "aspiring for 
 change," calling it their right to do so. 
 SCOBEY