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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07CAIRO2871 2007-09-23 16:04 2010-12-13 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Cairo

DE RUEHEG #2871/01 2661601
R 231601Z SEP 07
C O N F I D E N T I A L CAIRO 002871 




E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/31/2017 

REF: A. CAIRO 2839 
B. CAIRO 2825 

Classified By: ECPO Minister Counselor William R. Stewart 
for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 


1. (C) Egypt faces uncertainty as it moves towards a 
post-Mubarak future. It has been almost exactly twenty-six 
years since Egypt last faced such a transition. Although one 
could argue that some of the elements that led to the 
dramatic events of September and October 1981 are back in 
place -- shortages of basic foodstuffs, external political 
pressures, and crackdowns on political adversaries -- 
tensions now are different, and not on the same scale. While 
we should not place too much weight in analogy, it can 
nevertheless be instructive to review the events of September 
and October 1981 to see what useful comparisons can be made. 
End summary. 

Rumors Run Amok 

2. (C) This September, as in past late summers, salon talk 
and front page headlines have focused on that most sensitive 
of topics: the health of the president and the eventual 
transfer of power. Talk has been so pervasive, Prime 
Minister Nazif felt obliged to announce that "there is a 
system for the smooth transfer of power." Rumors of 
President Mubarak's deteriorating health -- and even his 
demise -- have been so insistent, even Suzanne Mubarak felt 
the need to publicly assert that he is alive and well. 

3. (C) At least half a dozen editorials have compared the 
tensions and rumors of this September to September 1981. 
Although the majority of Egyptians are too young to recall 
personally those momentous times, the lore of it remains deep 
in the national consciousness. Even young Egyptians recall 
hearing of the great "round up" of September 3, 1981 when 
Sadat seemed to "go crazy" as one commentator recalled, 
arresting and imprisoning opponents and critics of every 
stripe. Communists, Nasserists, Muslim Brothers, academics, 
and liberal-minded journalists found themselves cell-mates 
that late summer day. Even Coptic Pope Shenouda was placed 
under house arrest. Although Mubarak has hardly gone so far, 
some observers have argued that his feuds with Ayman Nour, 
Anwar Esmat El-Sadat (the late president's nephew), Saad 
Eddin Ibrahim, independent editors, and other perceived 
opponents, combined with his sweeping roundup of the Muslim 
Brotherhood -- arguably his only real political threat -- is 
reminiscent of 1981, and they fear it could lead to similar 

Mubarak Is No Sadat 

4. (C) According to some of Egypt's most astute political 
observers, this is over-analyzing the situation and drawing 
very wrong -- and dangerous - comparisons. Mohammed 
El-Bassiouni, chairman of the Majlis al-Shura's National 
Security Committee (which also has responsibility for Foreign 
Affairs and Arab Affairs), believes that the two Septembers 
have very little in common. El-Bassiouni recently told 
MinCouns that in 1981, when he was Egypt's military attach 
in Tel Aviv, President Sadat was under extreme pressure for 
not providing the "peace dividend" he had promised would be 
the result of his bold move towards Israel, and his deepening 
friendship the United States. When prosperity for all did 
not appear, Sadat felt under enormous pressure. Combined 
with Egypt's isolation in the Arab world, it seemed that his 
gamble had failed. In his pride, he lashed out at perceived 

No Comparison? 

5. (C) Such a scenario simply does not exist today, 
El-Bassiouni opined. Egypt's economy is growing, the fruit 
of President Mubarak's reform program launched in 2004. 
While relations with Israel are still "problematic," Mubarak 
has taken Egypt back to its rightful position as leader of 
the Arab world. The external pressures that helped stoke the 
tension of September 1981 "simply do not exist today." 

6. (C) Another alleged similarity between the present and 
Sadat's September is the shortage of basic commodities. 
Egyptians have been angered in recent weeks by reports of 
villages without access to drinking water -- in some cases, 
for years (ref A). Shortages of subsidized bread have also 
been in the headlines, as the poorest Egyptians wait in 
queues for shrinking loaves. At least one observer has made 
the case that September 2007 is more reminiscent of January 
1977 -- when riots erupted throughout Egypt due to price 
increases for bread and other basic foodstuffs -- than 
September 1981. But Dr. Galal Amin, economics professor at 
AUC (as he was in 1981) thinks there is little in common, 
economically, between the two eras. Egypt under Sadat, he 
argued, was actually better off in many ways: unemployment, 
which he sees as the single greatest problem facing Mubarak 
today, was lower then, and the overall standard of living was 
higher. The average Egyptian, he said felt that 
opportunities were greater in 1981, leading to general 
optimism. Sadat's "infitah" program, opening up Egypt's 
economy to foreign investment appeared to be working and 
creating jobs. Tourism was taking off, and the average 
Egyptian "felt good" about his life and better about his 
future than Egyptians today, according to Amin. Economic 
statistics refute Amin's assertions, but there is a 
perception within a certain statist/elite/academic 
demographic, represented by Amin, that somehow Sadat's were 
"the good old days." 

Economic Reform Still Masks Underlying Woes 

7. (C) Sadat trumpeted economic reform, touting 
privatization, pointing to a freer market that would benefit 
all Egyptians. These thoughts have been echoed under 
Mubarak, especially since the appointment of Prime Minister 
Nazif and his cabinet of economic reformers in 2004. 
However, as in 1981, recent economic advances are incomplete. 
Gigantic government subsidies then, as now, have served to 
brake greater economic reform. In 1981, 21.5% of the Gross 
National Income (GNI) went to the wealthiest 5% of the 
population, while the poorest 20% of the population received 
a mere 5% of Egypt's income. In 2007, there remains the 
general sense that Egypt's economic growth is benefiting only 
a tiny portion of the population. 17% of today's population 
lives under the poverty line, almost identical to the 
percentage in 1981, and the poorest 20% of the population 
received 4.8% of the GNI in 2004/05, while the richest 10% of 
the population received 30% of GNI. Although statistically 
the standard of living has not dramatically deteriorated, 
neither has it improved, leaving Egyptians with the feeling 
that others have passed them by to a brighter economic 

The Odd Couple 

8. (C) What the two periods unquestionably do have in common 
are a pair of increasingly isolated dictators, set in their 
ways and fearful of any kind of dissent. But though alike in 
certain personal characteristics (particularly paranoia), 
there are at the same time some very fundamental differences, 
including age (Sadat was a robust 63 years old when 
assassinated; Mubarak is a slowing 79) and length in office 
(barely 11 years for Sadat, closing on 26 years for Mubarak). 
Importantly, Sadat had a clear successor -- his vice 
president, Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak, in turn, has scrupulously 
avoided naming a VP, and although most believe that son Gamal 
will succeed him, no one can say for certain how that will 
play out. Another dissimilarity: Minister of Information 
Enas El-Fiqi, under intense scrutiny and pressure himself for 
allowing the rumors about Mubarak's health to get out of 
control, recently told the Ambassador that "there is no 
comparison" between Sadat and Mubarak because, "Mubarak never 
loses his temper." (El-Fiqi, though, admitted that the 
stress of his job was literally driving him to drink.) 

9. (C) Mubarak relishes his self-image as a benign, paternal 
leader, tough but fair. Still, he has shown signs of moving 
toward Sadat's modus operandi in dealing with political 
opponents. In the past year, Mubarak has arrested upwards of 
a thousand Muslim Brothers. While some have subsequently 
been released and only 40 are facing trial before a military 
tribunal so far, the message is unmistakable: after allowing 
the MB to participate in the 2005 parliamentary elections as 
"independents" (in which they won 88 seats, 20% of the 
Assembly), Mubarak is cracking down. Another similarity is 
the recent phobia Mubarak has developed towards the press. 
The Egyptian media, arguably as free as it has ever been (and 
certainly freer than it was under Sadat), is suddenly facing 
a cost for that liberty. In early September, four editors of 
independent newspapers were convicted of insulting the 
president and other GoE officials, while another editor is 
facing trial October 1 for allegedly spreading false rumors 
about Mubarak's health which were damaging to Egypt's 
reputation and to its economy. These arrests have been 
widely seen here as blatant attacks on the freedom of the 
press, much as Sadat's rounding up of journalists was in 

Love and Hate For the USA 

10. (C) One of the more striking similarities between the two 
leaders is their uneven relationship with the United States. 
Sadat's September madness came close on the heels of a 
profoundly disappointing trip to the United States to meet 
the new President, Ronald Reagan. By discarding the Soviet 
Union and reaching out to the United States -- and Israel -- 
he had taken considerable political risk. He had calculated 
that the payoff in tangible and intangible terms would more 
than justify that risk. But as his international stature 
increased spectacularly as the Arab world's "Man of Peace," 
his standing at home did not keep pace, as heightened 
expectations for peace and prosperity were unrealized. 
Still, in the U.S. he felt he had found a faithful ally, one 
that would stand by him even when his own people did not. 
Unfortunately, President Reagan's reception of Sadat in 
August 1981 was lukewarm, and Sadat came under severe 
criticism by the U.S. press for not delivering true peace to 
the Middle East. According to Mohamed Heikal, Sadat's former 
Minister of Information (who was himself arrested on 
September 3, 1981), Sadat returned to Egypt a bitter man, 
feeling betrayed by the Americans. Shortly afterwards came 
the arrests. 

Twin Twilights 

11. (C) At the end of the day, and the end of their reigns, 
Sadat faced and Mubarak faces similar situations. But 
Mubarak seems to have managed the dilemma better in at least 
one key area: he has systematically and "legally" eliminated 
virtually all political opposition, leaving only the MB 
standing, having foresworn violence and politically 
emasculated. Mubarak's internal security apparatus, an 
estimated 1.4 million strong, is at least twice the size it 
was under Sadat. Its ubiquitous presence and monopoly of the 
legitimate use of armed power makes any kind of violent 
change of leader unlikely. 

The One Certain Thing 

12. (C) The two presidents share another undeniable point in 
common: their mortality. Mubarak's street credibility, like 
Sadat's, is very low. The was illustrated by the insistent 
rumors of Mubarak's illness and death, despite numerous 
official denials. This lack of faith by the people of Egypt 
in their political leaders could well come back to haunt 
Mubarak's successor, whomever he may be. Will it make the 
transition more difficult? Yes. Will it matter in the end? 
Probably not, as long as the successor enjoys the support of 
the elite and the security apparatus, including the military. 
And even if there is a valid analogy to draw between 
September 1981 and September 2007, it is at best uneven. The 
world -- and Egypt -- have fundamentally changed. While 
President Mubarak clearly faces significant challenges, and 
has reacted with at least some measure of Sadat's paranoia, 
we do not foresee September 2007 leading to another October