NYT: Wikileaks cables reveal details of US-Egypt diplomacy


US State Department cables leaked by Wikileaks, and analyzed today in the New York Times, show how the Obama administration avoided "public confrontations" with Hosni Mubarak over issues human rights.

Another cable, dated March 2009, offered a pessimistic analysis of the prospects for the "April 6 Movement," a Facebook-based group of mostly young Egyptians that has received wide attention for its lively political debate and helped mobilize the protests that have swept Egypt in the last two days. Leaders of the group had been jailed and tortured by the police. There were also signs of internal divisions between secular and Islamist factions, it said.

The United States has defended bloggers with little success. When Ambassador Scobey raised several arrests with the interior minister, he replied that Egypt did not infringe on freedom of the press, but that it must respond when "people are offended by blogs." An aide to the minister told the ambassador that The New York Times, which has reported on the treatment of bloggers in Egypt, was "exaggerating the blogger issue," according to the cable.

American diplomats also cast a wide net to gather information on police brutality, the cables show. Through contacts with human rights lawyers, the embassy follows numerous cases, and raised some with the Interior Ministry. Among the most harrowing, according to a cable, was the treatment of several members of a Hezbollah cell detained by the police in late 2008.

Lawyers representing the men said they were subjected to electric shocks and sleep deprivation, which reduced them to a "zombie state." They said the torture was more severe than what they normally witnessed.

Cables Show Delicate U.S. Dealings With Egypt's Leaders (NYT, via Jim Roberts)

(PHOTO: A protester displays a message on a placard of the Egyptian flag during a demonstration outside the press syndicate in central Cairo January 27, 2011. Demonstrations demanding the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, in power since 1981, have raged since Tuesday in several Egyptian cities, with the biggest clashes in Cairo and Suez. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)


  1. I can understand the “onstage relationship” being publicly supportive of Mubarak while the behind the scenes approach using more firm language about Egypt’s human rights abuses. Yet it sounds like the 2 years of this strategy versus the public criticism of Mubarak by the Bush Administration didn’t make any difference.

    How long do you play nice with an important and strategic ally who at the same time is a royal asshole and human rights abuser along the lines of China?

  2. There is an unstoppable wave of grass roots political activism galvanized by Wikeleaks disclosures which will roll over the corrupt and brutal tyrants who have managed to remain in power through a combination of terror against their citizens and secrecy for the past three decades. The new democratic governments will remember the western leaders who supported the abusive and corrupt leaders in the Middle East and the political dynamics will shift from US bribery and inducements underscored by threats and intimidation to one of overwhelming suspicion of the motives behind all US policies and overtures.

  3. Something I have never understood about the opinion of U.S. influence. Maybe Boingers can explain it. People generally decry the U.S. being the “policeman of the world” and blame that mentality on why it is where is is now. Yet, it is somewhat that same mentality that gives them the clout to call other countries out on these abuses.

    So which face of the US is more desirable and why? And does anyone think it can ever be balanced in light of what has come out due to Wikileaks?

    1. While i can only speculate, i think it is the unilateralism that people decry when talking about “policeman of the world”. And that whatever actions are taken are rarely “selfless”.

        1. There is no such thing as an “unnecessary death” in a political context…tell me, what would be a “necessary death” in a political context?
          There is nether he one nor the other: a red herring.

          Not ‘necessity’, but ‘intention’, is the kley difference between different deaths in a political context, (ie wartime, insurrection):

          Intentional death = eg invasion of Iraq, or putting prisoners to death

          Unintentional death = eg deaths resulting from information being freely available (or so some, US Gov guys mostly, say), or from an accident, as in “collateral (that is , unintentional) damage”.

          The point : What counts as “necessary death”, some Waziri guy destroyed by a drone strike in the remote mountains of Waziristan?

          Both adjectives – “necessary” and “unnecssary” – as applied to death, are profoundly un-helpful ways of thinking about political violence.

          There exists neither the one nor the other, except in hindsight: and only then, to those who would kill again, or to those who seek to excuse and/or justify the previous killing.

          We are discussing politics, not medicine.

    2. My personal take: There are many kinds of influence. Before WWII we were rather isolationist; we left everything outside North America to Europe, mostly. Then suddenly the british and french and german empires were no more, and we were the only thing standing in Russia’s way. Our military, industrial, scientific, and (perceived or real) moral advantage gave us tremendous influence globally. Hence we became the “policeman of the world.” This is not, in itself, a bad thing.

      What we discovered over the next half century (though lots of politicians never learned the lesson) is the military power is the least effective of our options at creating positive change. We lost in Vietnam. Korea is still divided. And so on. But our work at rebuilding Europe and Japan won us a lot of friends and goodwill, and Japan in particular went from a military empire to a peaceful democratic economic powerhouse of an ally very quickly.

      Today, that means we should focus more on building schools, fighting malaria, and providing access to birth control, less on ousting dictators. Clearly, fed-up populations can oust their own dictators when they feel the need to.

      We have clout because we are economically and militarily powerful, but more than that, we have clout because our history is founded on ideals with global appeal. It’s simply untenable to think that the US will still represent a quarter of world GDP, or half of world military spending, a century from now; we’re only 5% of world population. But we can still have clout if we can uphold our ideals and inspire people. Today, though, we’re not really investing in that kind of clout. We’re doubling down on being a policeman in the more literal sense, instead. And that just isn’t gonna work in the long run.

  4. “They said the torture was more severe than what they normally witnessed.”

    And normal is… Gitmo?

  5. Subject: Free Suleiman: Jailed Egyptian blogger still held after
    serving 4 yr. sentence
    To: Embassy@egyptembassy.net, ECEB@eceb.us,
    Consulate@egyptembassy.net, INFO@egypttourism.org,

    Message from Davis Mirza & Rhonda Costas

    Re. Supporters work to free Egypt blogger Kareem Suleiman [click:

    Dear Government of Egypt,

    In a recent speech delivered by Egyptian Ambassador H.E. Sameh
    Shoukry, highlighting his country’s ‘improving’ press freedoms, he states,

    “It is also worthy to note that, unlike some other countries in the region, Egypt does not apply media censorship; hence promoting a wider space for freedom of expression… More than 162,000 of Egyptian citizens are bloggers, comprising 30% of the Arab world’s blogger community. And, the number of Egyptians with access to the internet has been growing at a remarkable pace. There is also a rising recognition of the importance of promoting and protecting human rights from a governmental and non-governmental perspective. Legislation has
    been enacted in support of this objective. Enhancing national capacity building is key, raising greater public awareness and enforcing accountability.” [Click: Egypt’s Ambassador at the US Naval Academy: “Egypt-US military cooperation is strong”
    http://www.egyptembassy.net/showspeech.cfm?id=148 ]

    In promoting freedom of expression and building an open press, the Egyptian Ambassador really means the continued detention of blogger Kareem Suleiman – the first blogger in Egypt to face a court trial for what he published online. Egypt not only has a crisis of cyber-space accountability but it is also guilty of the very human rights abuses it officially repudiates. Still locked in jail after four years, Suleiman was charged with “inciting hatred of Islam” and insulting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on his blog. Moreover, the sentence comes three years after Mubarak announced he would abolish the practice of imprisonment for “press offenses.”

    So what gives Government of Egypt – can it still promote press freedoms and human rights while continuing to jail Suleiman or does it simply believe appeasing the imperial wishes of the United States trumps President’s Mubarak’s own noble yet empty promise to stop jailing its journalists? We think all nations who nurture human rights and press freedoms know the answer to that question…Kareem Suleiman’s sentence ended Thursday November 4, 2010 but the Egyptian government has so far refused to release him from prison, or explain why.

    Supporters of Mr. Suleiman are demanding the Egyptian government put its humble words into action….if building national capacity truly means being an accountable democracy, Egypt has the opportunity to reconcile with its on-going censorship of the media by releasing Suleiman immediately.

    Anything less would not only be a disgrace upon Egypt’s human rights record – it would show Egypt for what it truly refuses to admit it has become – another military proxy state where state censorship is the norm (and not the exception) and where democracy plays second fiddle to powerful US interests that enable the use of extremism and intolerance to destabilize African sovereignty …something bloggers in Egypt (and yes, even in North Americans) are all too familiar with.

    Free Kareem Suleiman Now! Long live freedom of expression on the Internet!!

    In Peace & Solidarity,
    Davis Mirza & Rhonda Costas
    Toronto, CANADA
    Dated: November 6th, 2010.

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