- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2011

CAIRO IN CHAOS

Before Cairo fell into chaos, the U.S. Embassy in Egypt was worried about the stability of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and its perpetually poor human rights record.

Classified cables released last week reveal the extent of diplomatic concerns over the future of America’s strongest Arab ally years before massive street protests against Mr. Mubarak’s three decades of autocratic rule in Egypt. The Cairo cables are among dozens of secret and confidential documents the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks dumped on the Internet on Friday.

The embassy reported in 2009 that a political insider close to Mr. Mubarak assured American diplomats that the Egyptian military would guarantee a “smooth transfer of power” from the 82-year-old president to his 47-year-old son, Gamal.

The cable said that Ali El Deen Hilal Dessouki, a top member of the ruling National Democratic Party, “dismissed public and media speculation about the succession.”

“The idea that the military remains a key political and economic force is conventional wisdom here,” the embassy said in the secret cable. “However, other observers tell us that the military has grown less influential, more fractured and its leadership weaker in recent years.”

Another cable also speculates on a transition of power from Mr. Mubarak to his son, adding that Gamal Mubarak was maneuvering in 2007 to sideline anyone he viewed as a “threat to his presidential ambitions.”

The cable identified Omar Suleiman, the former director of the Egyptian intelligence service, and Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi as among those potential political threats. President Mubarak over the weekend appointed Mr. Suleiman to serve as the first vice president he has named since assuming power in 1981.

Citing a source whose name was redacted, the cable said a package of constitutional amendments approved in March 2007 “is largely aimed at ensuring Gamal Mubarak’s succession of his father and a ‘more controllable, stable political scene when he does take the reins.’”

Egypt’s poor human rights record presented the embassy with a difficult choice between openly confronting the Mubarak government or using diplomacy behind the scenes to push for the rights of political opponents.

“Credible human rights lawyers believe police brutality continues to be a pervasive, daily occurrence in [government] detention centers,” U.S. Ambassador Margaret Scobey said in a confidential cable in January 2010.

In a February cable last year, the embassy cited an unidentified “human rights activist” who urged the United States to rely on “quiet diplomacy over public statements.”

DIPLOMATIC TRAFFIC

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

Monday

Christina Liu, Taiwan’s minister of the council for economic planning and development, who addresses the American Enterprise Institute about U.S. investment in Taiwan.

Tuesday

Domingo Enriquez, former mayor of San Jacinto Amilpas, Mexico; and Luis Najera, a Mexican journalist who exposed corrupt police officials bribed by drug lords in Juarez. They discuss the crisis in Mexico at a briefing at the International Republican Institute.

Wednesday

Vital Kamerhe, former president of the National Assembly of the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and Mvemba Dizolele, a Congolese journalist. They discuss preparations for a presidential election in a briefing at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Friday

Michael Theurer, a German member of the European Parliament. He addresses the Friedrich Naumann Foundation on the economic distress hitting southern Europe and the relative stability in northern Europe.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.