US ambassador tells Hillary Clinton that president will win rigged election next year, his 30th in power
Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s long-serving president, is likely to seek re-election next year and will “inevitably” win a poll that will not be free and fair, the US ambassador to Cairo, Margaret Scobey, predicted in a secret cable to Hillary Clinton last year.
Scobey discussed Mubarak’s quasi-dictatorial leadership style since he took power in 1981; his critical views of George Bush and American policy in the Middle East; and the highly uncertain prospects for a succession.
The disclosures come one day after Mohamed ElBaradei, the former UN nuclear agency chief, announced he would not run for the presidency and urged all Egyptians to boycott the vote. ElBaradei dismissed last month’s parliamentary elections as fraud and vowed not to associated with a repeat performance. “We will not participate in this farce next year in the presidential election if changes to the constitution are not completed,” he said. Mubarak has not yet formally declared whether he will seek a sixth consecutive term.
Scobey’s candid view, in a cable dated May 2009, is that Mubarak, 82, who heads the Arab world’s most populous and influential nation, is most likely to die in office rather than step down voluntarily or be replaced in a plausible democratic vote. “The next presidential elections are scheduled for 2011 and if Mubarak is still alive it is likely he will run again and, inevitably, win,” Scobey writes.
“When asked about succession he states that the process will follow the Egyptian constitution. Despite incessant whispered discussions no one in Egypt has any certainty about who will eventually succeed Mubarak nor under what circumstances.
“The most likely contender is presidential son Gamal Mubarak (whose profile is ever-increasing at the ruling party); some suggest that intelligence chief Omar Soliman might seek the office; or dark horse Arab League secretary general Amre Moussa might run.
“Mubarak’s ideal of a strong but fair leader would seem to discount Gamal Mubarak to some degree, given Gamal’s lack of military experience, and may explain Mubarak’s hands-off approach to the succession question. Indeed he seems to be trusting to God and the ubiquitous military and civilian security services to ensure an orderly transition.”
Scobey, writing ahead of Mubarak’s visit to Washington in August last year, gave her impressions of Egypt’s leader based on personal encounters. She said the president was a political survivor who maintained his grip on power by avoiding risks. She noted his low opinion of the former US president George Bush.
“Mubarak is … in reasonably good health; his most notable problem is a hearing deficit in his left ear. He responds well to respect for Egypt and for his position but is not swayed by personal flattery.
“During his 28-year tenure he survived at least three assassination attempts, maintained peace with Israel, weathered two wars in Iraq and post-2003 regional instability, intermittent economic downturns and a manageable but chronic internal terrorist threat.
“He is a tried and true realist, innately cautious and conservative, and has little time for idealistic goals. Mubarak viewed President Bush as naive, controlled by subordinates and totally unprepared for dealing with post-Saddam Iraq, especially the rise of Iran’s regional influence.”
Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s secretary of state, chose Cairo for a 2005 speech advocating democratic reform across the Arab world. Cairo was also the setting for Barack Obama’s speech last year on the west’s relations with Islam.
“On several occasions Mubarak has lamented the US invasion of Iraq and the downfall of Saddam. He routinely notes that Egypt did not like Saddam and does not mourn him, but at least he held the country together and countered Iran.
“Mubarak continues to state that in his view Iraq needs a ‘tough, strong military officer who is fair’ as leader. This telling observation, we believe, describes Mubarak’s own view of himself.”
Scobey reports that Mubarak, “a classic Egyptian secularist”, believes US interventions in the Middle East routinely result in disaster and that another is looming in Afghanistan and Pakistan as religious extremists gain influence.
In Mubarak’s view US pressure for reform in the Shah’s Iran pre-1979, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and US support for elections in Gaza that brought Hamas to power in 2006 were all policies that backfired calamitously.
Scobey said Mubarak believed US attempts to encourage political reform and inclusiveness in Egypt ahead of the 2011 polls were similarly misconceived and had only reinforced his determination to resist them.
“No issue demonstrates Mubarak’s world view more than his reaction to demands that he open Egypt to genuine political competition and loosen the pervasive control of the security services. Certainly the public ‘name and shame’ approach in recent years strengthened his determination not to accommodate our views.”
Scobey said that by refusing to share power and keeping a tight rein on his leading advisers, Mubarak was storing up trouble and creating a potential power vacuum. Her view was echoed by ElBaradei this week when he warned of popular unrest if political opponents were denied a legitimate outlet.
“Mubarak has no single confidant or adviser who can truly speak for him,” Scobey said, “and he has prevented any of his main advisers from operating outside their strictly circumscribed spheres of power.
“Defence minister Tantawi keeps the armed forces appearing reasonably sharp and the officers satisfied with their perks and privileges, and Mubarak does not appear concerned that these forces are not well prepared to face 21st century external threats.
“EGIS [Egyptian General Intelligence Service] chief Omar Soliman and interior minister al-Adly keep the domestic beasts at bay, and Mubarak is not one to lose sleep over their tactics.
“Gamal Mubarak and a handful of economic ministers have input on economic and trade matters but Mubarak will likely resist further economic reform if he views it as potentially harmful to public order and stability.”