KEY QUOTE: 'Most opposition parties and independent NGOs work toward achieving tangible, incremental reform within the current political context, even if they may be pessimistic about their chances of success.'
In April 2008, in the town of El-Mahalla El Kubra in the Nile Delta region of northern Egypt, a strike and demonstrations held by textile workers protesting against factory conditions and spiraling prices led to violent clashes with security forces, and several deaths were reported. There were unusual scenes of rebellion, including the toppling of a giant billboard bearing a portrait of Hosni Mubarak and widespread chanting against his regime. A US diplomatic cable shortly afterwards - as yet unposted by the Wikileaks site but recently quoted from in a report by French daily Le Monde - reported a "significant" event in which a "new opposition force" with no apparent links to the Muslim Brotherhood had appeared. The social movement in El-Mahalla El Kubra inspired the online Facebook ‘April 6th Movement', named after the date of the textile workers' strike, and which became a ‘virtual' rallying point for tens of thousands of Egyptian opponents calling for the creation of a democratic society.
In a US Cairo embassy cable dated December 30th 2008, Washington's support for the movement is made clear. It followed the officially-organised visit to the US earlier that month of one of the April 6th Movement activists, and begins: "On December 23, April 6 activist XXXXXXXXXXXX expressed satisfaction with his participation in the December 3-5 "Alliance of Youth Movements Summit," and with his subsequent meetings with USG officials, on Capitol Hill, and with think tanks. He described how State Security (SSIS) detained him at the Cairo airport upon his return and confiscated his notes for his summit presentation calling for democratic change in Egypt, and his schedule for his Congressional meetings."
Referring to the Egyptian government as GOE and the US administration as USG, it refers to the activist's demands for blunt US pressure to be exerted on the Cairo regime: "XXXXXXXXXXXX described how he tried to convince his Washington interlocutors that the USG should pressure the GOE to implement significant reforms by threatening to reveal information about GOE officials' alleged "illegal" off-shore bank accounts. He hoped that the U.S. and the international community would freeze these bank accounts, like the accounts of Zimbabwean President Mugabe's confidantes."
Offering a revealing insight into the long build-up to the events that have now finally erupted in Egypt, the cable notes: "According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, the opposition is interested in receiving support from the army and the police for a transitional government prior to the 2011 elections. XXXXXXXXXXXX asserted that this plan is so sensitive it cannot be written down. (Comment: We have no information to corroborate that these parties and movements have agreed to the unrealistic plan XXXXXXXXXXXX has outlined. Per ref C, XXXXXXXXXXXX previously told us that this plan was publicly available on the internet. End comment.)"
The report concludes: "XXXXXXXXXXXX offered no roadmap of concrete steps toward April 6's highly unrealistic goal of replacing the current regime with a parliamentary democracy prior to the 2011 presidential elections. Most opposition parties and independent NGOs work toward achieving tangible, incremental reform within the current political context, even if they may be pessimistic about their chances of success. XXXXXXXXXXXX's wholesale rejection of such an approach places him outside this mainstream of opposition politicians and activists."
5. The power of Egyptian ‘cyber-activism'
Key quote: 'Blogs have spread throughout the population to become vehicles for a wide range of activists, students, journalists and ordinary citizens to express their views on almost any issue they choose.'
A US Cairo embassy cable dated March 30th 2009 relays the rising influence of opposition expression on the internet , notably through social networks and blogs. "Egypt's bloggers are playing an increasingly important role in broadening the scope of acceptable political and social discourse, and self-expression," it begins.
"[...]Egypt has an estimated 160,000 bloggers who write in Arabic, and sometimes in English, about a wide variety of topics, from social life to politics to literature. One can view posts ranging from videos of alleged police brutality (ref B), to comments about the GOE's foreign policy, to complaints about separate lines for men and women in government offices distributing drivers' licenses. One NGO contact estimated for us that a solid majority of bloggers are between 20 and 35 years old, and that about 30 percent of blogs focus on politics. Blogs have spread throughout the population to become vehicles for a wide range of activists, students, journalists and ordinary citizens to express their views on almost any issue they choose. As such, the blogs have significantly broadened the range of topics that Egyptians are able to discuss publicly."
The cable says the Egyptian government had allowed "wide latitude" to the contents of blogs, as long as they did not attack Mubarak or Islam. However it notes: "The GOE has also arrested activists, such as XXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXX, who have used blogging to organize and support protests (refs A and C). Activists are increasingly writing blogs to advance their political aims. Contacts accurately point out that bloggers have ceased to function as a cohesive activist movement. It is noteworthy that bloggers did not play a significant role in the most recent example of mass cyber-activism - the April 6, 2008 strike orchestrated through Facebook."
The cable ends with examples of the audacity and consequences of the blogs: "XXXXXXXXXXXX stressed the importance of bloggers' concern with torture and press freedom. At a public lecture XXXXXXXXXXXX human rights lawyer XXXXXXXXXXXX lauded XXXXXXXXXXXX for posting an alleged police sodomy video a few days earlier (ref B), and for breaking the El-Kebir police brutality case. In November 2007, a court sentenced two police officers to three years in prison for assaulting and sodomizing bus driver Imad El-Kebir. The case gained notoriety after XXXXXXXXXXXX a cell phone video recording of the attack."
Sans surprise, les diplomates américains constatent, en mars 2009, que «des blogueurs égyptiens jouent un rôle de plus en plus important dans l'élargissement des contours du débat politique et social, et de la libre expression». Ils estiment qu'environ 30% des 160.000 blogueurs égyptiens alors recensés, la grande majorité écrivant en arabe, âgés de 20 à 35 ans, évoquent des questions directement politiques.