How will the greatest leak in history affect US-Egypt ties? A memo sent by then-American Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey to Hillary Clinton in February 2009 ahead of the US secretary of state's first visit to Cairo exposes the relations between the two countries, as well as the Egyptian president's opinion on the region's countries.
In the classified document, the former ambassador briefs the secretary of state ahead of her expected meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.
"Aboul Gheit is smart, urbane, with a tendency to lecture and to avoid discussing Egyptian failings with all-purpose recourse to Egyptian sovereign pride. However, because this is his first meeting with you and it is in Washington, he may be more inclined to listen," she wrote.
The Egyptians, Scobey said, "have long felt that, at best, we take them for granted; and at worst, we deliberately ignore their advice while trying to force our point of view on them.
She added that "although the Egyptians will react well to overtures of respect and appreciation, Egypt is very often a stubborn and recalcitrant ally.
Egyptians proud of their role as intermediary. Clinton and Aboul Gheit (Photo: AP)
"You should thank him for Egypt's continuing regional leadership," the ambassador added, "in particular regarding their efforts to bring about a ceasefire in Gaza, and press him for Egypt to continue to use their influence and good offices to achieve a permanent solution to intra-Palestinian infighting and conflict. You should also stress the need for Egypt to more effectively insure that Hamas cannot rearm via smuggling across – or tunneling under – the border with Gaza."
'Like a gigantic ant colony'
As for the Egyptian stand towards the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Scobey said that "although Aboul Gheit was never enthusiastic about the Annapolis Peace process, resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains the primary strategic political goal for the Egyptians.
"They are proud of their role as intermediary, well aware that they are perhaps the only player that can talk with us, the Israelis, and all Palestinian factions."
The ambassador went on to present the Egyptian president's basic stand towards Hamas. "Mubarak hates Hamas, and considers them the same as Egypt's own Muslim Brotherhood, which he sees as his own most dangerous political threat.
"Egypt views a well-armed and powerful Hamas as a national security threat," she added, mentioning the June 2007 incident in which Hamas "bulldozed the old border fence and more than half a million Palestinians poured into Egypt."
As for the smuggling, the ambassador said that "the narrow corridor between Egypt and Gaza is as honey-combed with subterranean passageways as a gigantic ant colony… Long criticized by Israel for 'not doing enough' to halt arms smuggling via tunnels, the Egyptians have stopped complaining and started acting."
Moving on to the cooperation between Egypt and Israel, Scobey wrote that "Egypt will not take any action that could be perceived as collaboration in Israel's siege of Gaza… Aboul Gheit publicly distanced Egypt from our January MOU with Israel to combat arms smuggling into Gaza, although he knew about it in advance and consulted with Secretary Rice and me about its contents."
Egypt, she explained, "has withstood scathing and widespread criticism in the Arab world for refusing to open the Rafah border crossing to supply Gaza" and for no doing a thing during the Gaza offensive.
Therefore, she said, the Egyptians "must be able to point the finger of blame at Israel for the plight of the Palestinians" so as not to be perceived as collaborators.
'Don't believe a word Iran says'Aboul Gheit, Scobey reported, will ask to explore the American intentions towards Iran. "President Mubarak told Senator Mitchell during his recent visit here that he did not oppose our talking with the Iranians, as long as 'you don't believe a word they say.'"
As for Iran, "Mubarak has a visceral hatred for the Islamic Republic, referring repeatedly to Iranians as 'liars,' and denouncing them for seeking to destabilize Egypt and the region. He sees the Syrians and Qataris as sycophants to Tehran and liars themselves. There is no doubt that Egypt sees Iran and its greatest long-term threat."
The Egyptian president was "not enthusiastic" about bringing Syria into negotiations again, the ambassador added. "President Mubarak enjoys recounting for visiting members of Congress how he warned former President Bush against invading Iraq, ending with, 'I told you so!' and a wag of his finger."
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