While Cairo is rocked for the fifth day in succession by an uprising of its people which ultimately will send its dictator president Hosni Mubarak packing in a similar way as Tunisia’s dictator Ben Ali earlier this month, WikiLeaks has posted a confidential diplomatic cable of January 15, 2009, regarding the brutality of the police in Egypt, physical violence against even females and torture to extort convicts confessions and torture against members of the Muslim Brotherhood which is considered a political threat. Police brutality is, according to contacts, attributed to “poor training, understaffing and official sanction.” Some policemen might even “believe that Islamic law sanctions torture.” The cable further states that,
“Â¶7. (C) Contacts agree that in the past five years, the government has stopped denying that torture exists and has taken some steps to address the problem. However, contacts believe that the Interior Ministry lacks the political will to take substantive action to change the culture of police brutality. XXXXXXXXXXXX asserted that following alleged standing orders from the Interior Ministry between 2000 and 2006 for the police to shoot, beat and humiliate judges in order to undermine judicial independence, the GOE made a political decision in 2007 to allow the courts to sentence police officers to short prison terms. XXXXXXXXXXXX described the 2007 Imad El-Kebir case as a turning point in influencing the government to permit the sentencing of police officers.”
Another cable of February 23, 2009, is summarizing a meeting of Senator Joe Lieberman and unofficial crown prince Gamal Mubarak on February 17. Lieberman, now an “independent Democrat”, had endorsed Republican candidate John McCain in the U.S. presidential campaign of 2008, not Obama. He has recently announced to retire next year from senate.
It is interesting to read both diplomatic cables from Cairo carefully. Lieberman was allegedly seeking “advice” from Gamal for a solution of a number of problems of the region, for instance, Gaza after the 2008/2009 war; Iran’s attempt to exploit “the current split within Arab ranks between ‘moderate (Egypt, Saudi Arabia) and ‘radical’ (Syria and Qatar);” and whether and how “to engage” with Iran. That this sort of small talk might in any way be informative for Lieberman might in fact be doubted. It shows, anyway, the “insider view” of somebody who many expected to become Egypt’s next dictator; of course, before the anti-government demonstrations turned into riots with at the moment 25 at least 74 fatal casualties.
“Â¶4. (C) Senator Lieberman asked Gamal if he thought the United States should re-engage with Iran. ‘As long as Ahmedinejad is there, I am skeptical,’ Gamal responded. Senator Lieberman said he shared that skepticism, but explained that the new administration believes the U.S. should try to engage the Iranians, but no clear strategy has yet emerged in Washington; Dennis Ross has been tasked with ‘reviewing’ the situation. The one thing that is clear, Gamal stressed, is that by removing Saddam, the U.S. opened the door for Iran to flex its muscles and spread its influence throughout the region. ‘Like it or not, Saddam was a stumbling block to Iranian aspirations. His fall led directly to an increase in Iranian influence on the region.’ Now, it is all the more important not to send a message of weakness to the Iranians, Gamal said, ‘neither from the U.S., nor from the moderates in the region.’ We cannot “concede to their policy of aggression.’
“Â¶5. (C) There are many in the region, Gamal explained, who believe that the U.S. was weakened by its actions in Iraq, and that Iran was strengthened. Furthermore, there is a perception that the U.S. has been hurt by the economic crisis and that it will be more inward looking for the next few years. Therefore, the Americans, it is said, will deal with problems in the region in a ‘less confrontational’ fashion, and ‘may be willing to compromise. Iran is working hard to convince others that this is the case.’ This creates a very dangerous situation for moderate states like Egypt, Gamal stressed. Noting that there was some truth in this analysis, particularly concerning the economic straits the U.S. is in, Senator Lieberman said that the U.S. will nonetheless engage in an even more aggressive Middle East foreign policy than previously, as evidenced by President Obama’s choice of Secretary Clinton and Special Envoy Mitchell. Gamal welcomed this reassurance, noting that the GCC states in particular are ‘terrified’ of Iran. Just the previous week, he said, an Iranian general had said publicly that Bahrain ‘has always been part of Iran,’ as well as the Tunb Islands.
“Â¶6. (C) Senator Lieberman then asked Gamal for his assessment of Qatari behavior. They are coordinating closely with Syria and Iran, Gamal said, ‘in an orchestrated attack on Egypt and other moderate Arab states.’ Qatar has enabled Hamas to hamper every effort we have made to cement a ceasefire in Gaza. For some reason, Qatar seems to want to play the role of spoiler, Gamal surmised. ‘Even regarding the March 2nd Gaza conference we are hosting, they have called for another Arab only meeting in Doha just two days before.’ In response to Senator Lieberman’s question as to Qatari motives, Gamal responded, ‘They just want a place at the table, no matter what.’”
The small Gulf island Bahrain has actually been Persian until the late 18th century. Its seventy per cent Shi’ite majority is heavily oppressed by its Sunni rulers. Shi’ite demonstrations have been cracked-down by the regime before parliamentary elections last year. About the dispute on the Tunbs one may read a bit here. That Gamal mentions Qatar in a row with Syria, describing its Salafi rulers as “radical’, might surprise. The tiny Gulf emirate is generally considered a strong ally of the U.S. On the other hand, Tehran and Doha had signed in February 2010 a defense cooperation agreement stressing that the two countries will expand their cooperation in training and conduct joint campaigns against terrorism and insecurity in the region. Qatar’s Prime Minister has publicly given support to Iran’s right for developing nuclear technology within its peaceful nuclear program. A diplomatic cable of December 21, 2009 from Doha, which was posted by WikiLeaks on the very day the Cablegate leaks commenced (November 28, 2010) and which describes preparations of the Prime Minister’s visit in Washington in January 2010 may reflect American nervous concerns regarding the “working relationship with Iran, given the natural gas reserves [Qatar] share[s] with Iran.” On the agenda for the upcoming visit a question was put, “How best do you think we can persuade Iran to give up its military nuclear aims without military confrontation?”
But back to the Cairo cables. In his talk with Lieberman, former international banker Gamal mentions Egypt’s far better shape regarding its economic situation than expected after the global financial crisis. Inflation was quite low, and the banking sector had thoroughly been overhauled a couple of years ago. “We are bound to feel the brunt of [the financial crisis] eventually.” He made even some suggestions for bolder measures by the United States to end the crisis to which Lieberman seems to agree in a way. In 2009 Egypt still seemed a reliable partner in the Middle East.
As a final note, Senator Lieberman is among those American politicians who have targeted WikiLeaks, in particular its founder Julian Assange, and even the New York Times for publishing the leaks most. Glenn Greenwald has compared Lieberman with Chinese dictators when it comes to the American Constitution’s First Amendment. There is certainly much relief after he had announced to retire in 2012.
Last modified January 29, 2011.