The Carter Cables

Wikileaks has released the now declassified record of State Dept. dating from President Jimmy Carter’s first year in office, which were obtained through FOIA requests. The Carter Library had also released earlier this year a range of administration documents, but Wikileaks makes them searchable through its (much-improved) database. The cables cover 1977, including the January bread riots in Cairo and Alexandria. One early take on the protests sounds strikingly similar to the protests seen in 2011-2013:

3 - OUR IMPRESSION IS THAT VIOLENT ELEMENTS WHICH LAST EVENING THREW ROCKS IN TAHRIR SQUARE AND ROAMED IN SMALL GANGS THROUGHOUT CENTRAL CAIRO WERE ALMOST ENTIRELY COMPOSED OF YOUNG BOYS OF HIGH SCHOOL AGE. SIGNIFICANTLY, OLDER PEOPLE DID NOT CONTRIBUTE TO MOST OF VIOLENCE. WE UNDERSTAND, HOWEVER, THAT OLDER WORKERS CONTRIBUTED TO VIOLENCE WHICH ERUPTED IN WORKING CLASS SUBURBS, ESPECIALLY SHUBRA.

4 - SITUATION AT 1030 LOCAL (0830Z) JANUARY 19: WHILE TAHRIR SQUARE STILL CLEAR, THOUSANDS HAVE BEGUN DEMONSTRATE TO NORTH AND EAST, ESPECIALLY NEAR CENTRAL BANK. ROCK THROWING AND PROVOCA- TION OF POLICE ARE PRIMARILY BY MOST YOUTHFUL OF RIOTERS. POLICE CHARGING CROWDS USING TEAR GAS. MOST SHOPS ARE CLOSED AND PRIVATE CARS ARE BEING KEPT OFF STREETS. POLICE HAVE SEALED OFF MOST OF DOWNTOWN CAIRO. ALL UNIVERSITIES AND SCHOOLS ARE CLOSED. MOST BUSES AND TAXIS ARE OFF STREETS. FOR FIRST TIME SINCE DEMONSTRATIONS BEGAN, ARMY UNITS WITH RIFLES ARE SPOTTED THROUGHOUT METROPOLITAN CAIRO AND WE HAVE HEARD LOUD REPORTS WHICH MIGHT BE RIFLE SHOTS. WE HAVE NOT, HOWEVER, SO FAR SEEN CRACK SECURITY RESERVE FORCES.

There are also some amusingly laconic Cold War artifacts, such as the following:

1 - CAIRO PRESS REPORTS THAT KHALID MUHI AL-DIN, LEADER OF EGYPT'S NATIONAL PROGRESSIVE UNIONIST PARTY (MARXIST), HAS LEFT FOR MOSCOW TO ATTEND PEACE COUNCILS MEETING AS HEAD OF EGYPTIAN COUNCIL.

2 - AS NOTED PARA 2 REFTEL, KHALID HAS BEEN DOING WHAT HE CAN BOTH TO BURNISH SOVIET IMAGE HERE AND TO PRESS FOR IMPROVEMENT IN RELATIONS. AS EGYPT'S "RESPECTABLE" COMMUNIST HE HAS KEPT HIS COMMENTS IN CHARACTERISTICALLY LOW KEY. MATTHEWS

Probably worth digging through if you have a specific enquiry about events taking place in 1977. Of course I chose Egypt as a search term but the cables are worldwide. Can't wait till they get to 1979 and those on the Iranian revolution, hostage crisis and siege of Mecca are released.

Carter: Tantawi in denial over "girl in the blue bra"

One of the interesting tidbits in Jimmy Carter's report on Egypt from his recent trip (which I blogged about here) is a revelation that the generals on SCAF tried to convince him that soldiers had been trying to help the now icononoc "girl in the blue bra." I had heard about this last week from people at the meeting, but off the record. As it's now in the report and has been picked up in the Egyptian press, here's a highlight:

I was received with a friendly welcome as I congratulated the military leaders for what seemed to be a successful election, and then asked a number of questions. It seemed that the SCAF had full confidence that there would be accommodation to their demands by the Muslim Brotherhood and their coalition partners as the new government is formed. Instead of the reported 12,000 mostly political prisoners being held for trials in military courts, the Field Marshal stated that there were no more than 3,000, all of whom were guilty of criminal acts and being tried in civilian courts. He stated that the widely promulgated videos showing military attacks on demonstrators and a woman "with the blue brassiere" were all falsified. He said the soldiers were actually helping the woman re-clothe herself with what was provocative attire. I was assured that the emergency law would be lifted before the presidential election, no later than June.

Tantawi and the other generals actually went on at length over how the video had been doctored and that the soldier was actually trying to cover her up and help her, and that the widely viewed video on YouTube was basically a plot against them. They also suggested that the woman was dressed inappropriately under her cloak. You can tell exactly what happened – that she was beaten and stomped upon by the soldiers – in the video. The generals either lied to their teeth, or more probably and more worryingly, actually believe the crap they spew. The real question is, who is feeding them that line?

Carter, SCAF and the Egyptian elections

I attended the press conference organized by the Carter Center this morning, featuring Jimmy Carter. The full press release is below, but the basic takeaway word to describer the Center's estimate of the conduct of the first post-Mubarak elections is "acceptable".

President Carter used the word several times, and if you drill down in the details of their report you can tell they have major reservations about the conduct of the elections, particularly the vote-counting (some of this has already been taken on board by the Egyptian authorities, for instance the idea of counting votes inside of polling stations rather than in "chaotic" (the Carter Center's word) polling stations. My impression, talking on background with several people there, is that there were some serious problems with the elections, most of which were due to disorganization rather than malice, and that in any case since most of the Egyptian political class is accepting the results, there is no reason to make a bigger deal of it. Perhaps the biggest note of disappointment comes with the very few seats won by women and the fact that there was minimal effort to secure a better chance for female candidates.

The other amusing thing is that much of the press conference was not about the elections, but rather the post-elections battle between parliament (i.e. the Muslim Brothers, mostly) and the military, and to a lesser extent Camp David. Carter stressed that all of the party leaders he spoke to were in favor of maintaining the treaty, and again chose to stress that the Camp David agreement had two parts: one on Egyptian-Israeli peace, which has been implemented, and another that he described as "a guarantee of Palestinian rights," which he had already said recently both Israel and Egypt had fallen short on (I posted on that yesterday). 

On the relationship between the military and civilians, Carter said that he was given the impression (noted in an interview with the NYT two days ago), in his meeting with SCAF, that they intended to retain some power after the transfer of power to a new president. Here's David Kirkpatrick's Times story from Wednesday:

 

CAIRO — Former President Jimmy Carter said Wednesday that after meeting with Egypt’s military rulers he doubted they would fully submit to the authority of the civilian democracy they had promised to install.

“ ‘Full civilian control’ is a little excessive, I think,” Mr. Carter said, after describing a meeting he had Tuesday with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, leader of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF. “I don’t think the SCAF is going to turn over full responsibility to the civilian government. There are going to be some privileges of the military that would probably be protected.”

Mr. Carter’s assessments of Egypt’s political transition are significant in part because his role in the Camp David accords made him a revered figure here, with singular access at all levels of the Egyptian government and society. He was here Wednesday with a team from his human rights organization, the Carter Center, to help monitor the end of the last day of the final round of the first parliamentary elections since the ouster last February of President Hosni Mubarak.

 

However, SCAF issued a statement denying that it intends to retain some power after the transfer of power to civilians, as it has in the past. Carter gracefully accepted their correction, did not appear convinced, and seemed eager to discuss this "misunderstanding."

More coverage of this here: WaPo | AFP | Ahram | Jazeera | Reuters

The full press release from the Carter Center is after the jump, and contains detailed recommendations.

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Carter on Camp David

Some interesting highlights from Abigail Hauslohner's TIME interview with Jimmy Carter, who is in Cairo at the moment:

Right, the ones who voted. Would you see that any differently if this newly elected government opts to abandon Camp David?
There is no chance of that in the world, in my opinion.

Why?
Because the peace treaty that I helped negotiate between Israel and Egypt is so precious and so beneficial to Egypt [that] to renounce it and to take a chance on going back to war with Israel — as they did four times in the 25 years before I became president — is almost inconceivable. And even the Muslim Brotherhood has made public statements in the past that they support the continuation of the treaty. There is one element of the Camp David accords that has been abandoned in the past, even in Egypt, and that is the protection of the Palestinian rights. This was a major part of the agreement that I worked out with [Israeli Prime Minister Menachem] Begin and [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat 30-something years ago... peace between Israel and Egypt and protection of Palestinian rights. And even the Egyptian leaders in the past few years have not honored their commitment to protect Palestinian rights. And I think that will be one change made by the future civilian government.

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Links for Dec.21.09 to Dec.23.09

Middle East Online | The End of Brotherly Love? | Tarek Kahlaoui on the Egyptian MB. * The Israel Lobby and the Prospects for Middle East Peace « P U L S E | Lectures by Stephen Walt. * Israeli Organ Trafficking and Theft: From Moldova to Palestine | Investigation by Washigton Report. * Doctor admits Israeli pathologists harvested organs without consent | World news | The Guardian | Unbelievable. * Israel gives response to Hamas prisoner swap offer | "Israel relayed its response to the proposed swap and handed over a list of Palestinians it wants exile." * Jimmy Carter to U.S. Jews: Forgive me for stigmatizing Israel - Haaretz - Israel News | WTF? * The Fascination of Israel – Forward.com | Review of three books on Israel. * «Il y a 40.000 Chinois en Algérie» | 40,000 Chinese in Algeria, 2000 Algerians in China. * Meedan | Moroccan and Jordanian forces join Saudi offensive against Houthis. | Handle with care, chief source appears to be Spanish press. * In Shift, Oren Calls J Street ‘A Unique Problem’ – Forward.com | Israel ambassador ramps up the attack on new lobby. * IRIN Middle East | EGYPT-ISRAEL: Perilous journey to the promised land | Middle East | Egypt Israel | Migration Refugees/IDPs | Feature | On sub-Saharan migration to Israel via Egypt. * Palestinians shoot at Egypt | Response to the collapsing of tunnels that have claimed many Palestinian lives? * Egypt's ailing cotton industry needs shake-up | Reuters | Industry risks a "slow death." * Middle East Report Online: Broken Taboos in Post-Election Iran by Ziba Mir-Hosseini | On the Green Movement and gender issues. * Egypt rebukes Hamas over 'foot-dragging' in Palestinian reconciliation - Israel News, Ynetnews | Omar Suleiman:
Suleiman said Egypt had promised Hamas it would address the terror group's reservations vis-à-vis the reconciliation deal "after they sign and begin to implement it." He said Hamas' concerns "lacked substance," adding that the agreement would not be revised. "If it will (be changed), I'll resign," said Suleiman.
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