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Viewing cable 09CAIRO2166, EGYPT: NDP READY TO RUN ON A "FOR YOU" PLATFORM REF: 2008 CAIRO 2310 Classified By: Minister-Counselor for Economic and Political Affairs Donald A. Blome

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09CAIRO2166 2009-11-17 15:03 2011-02-16 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Cairo
DE RUEHEG #2166/01 3211537
P 171537Z NOV 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 CAIRO 002166 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/12/2019 
SUBJECT: EGYPT: NDP READY TO RUN ON A "FOR YOU" PLATFORM REF: 2008 CAIRO 2310 Classified By: Minister-Counselor for Economic and Political Affairs Donald A. Blome
1.(C) Key Points: -- As promised, the National Democratic Party's sixth annual conference focused on economic and social development including expanding economic opportunity through investment, decentralization, poverty alleviation, an expanding social safety net, an overhaul of the health care system, and the announcement of a supplemental 10 billion Egyptian Pound (LE) spending package for the coming year. -- Speakers often failed to distinguish between the party platform and government policies, referring to accomplishments like the implementation of constitutional amendments, the creation of 64 new seats for women in the People's Assembly, or Egypt's success in weathering the international financial crisis. -- President Mubarak opened and closed the conference, and as party leader, was praised by other speakers. Gamal Mubarak played a prominent role in the conference and was present throughout. -- Political reform was not a key theme at the conference, but speakers at the conference, including President Mubarak, called for a "constructive" opposition. -- Neither the 2011 presidential elections nor succession were discussed at the conference. Despite a denial of any internal inter-generational dispute, there were marked differences of style.

2.(C) Comment: Some members of the NDP see the conference as evidence of the success of the party's own "internal democratization," the result of a reform process initiated in 2002 by Gamal. These claims ring hollow with most Egyptians. Even members of the NDP admit that it is mere "window dressing" for continued back-room policy making. In the end, the conference offered few surprises, especially on the policy front. It does provide a window, however narrow, into the often opaque world of NDP party politics and personalities. Here Gamal Mubarak and his "new guard" allies play a prominent role, fueling speculation about his presidential ambitions. End Comment.

3.(C) In its sixth annual conference held in Cairo October 31 to November 2, the National Democratic Party (NDP), set out its platform for the 2010 parliamentary elections under the slogan "For you"("Min Aglik Inte"). The purpose of the NDP's annual conference is to set out its policy priorities or, in this election year, the party's electoral platform. Its convention (the next is scheduled for 2011 and coincides with the 2011 presidential elections) selects its leaders. The conference is rarely seen as a real policy making event, but as a way to understand NDP, and thus GoE, priorities. As one member of the influential NDP Policies Committee later confirmed, priorities had been hammered out at the committee level before the conference's start. They were then sold, as formulated, to party rank and file at the conference and those Egyptians watching on TV. The NDP Conference has also become an annual opportunity to leaders from throughout the country to get together and network with the leadership. During conference breaks, members would rush to speak with party leaders. ----------- NDP or GoE? -----------

4.(C) Throughout the conference, party leaders and government officials blurred the lines between the NDP party platform and the accomplishments and agenda of the current government. Cabinet officials, all high-ranking members of the NDP, were a front row presence when party leaders were on the dais. It was Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, who has no specific leadership role in the party, that set out the key "challenges" on the party's agenda for the coming year including: the importance of government decentralization efforts, addressing the burden of an expanding population through efforts to control family size (Note: Nazif's comments that families should be limited to two children caused a wave of murmurs in the crowd. End Note), building "human capital" including an expansion of vocational training, health care reform, efforts to address water and sanitation shortages, the need to bring the benefits of economic success to all, agricultural reform that would CAIRO 00002166 002 OF 004 benefit the "fellaheen" (or small farmer) and a supplemental spending package or "stimulus" of 10 billion Egyptian Pounds (LE) that would focus on providing services to rural constituencies. -------------------------------------- Economics and Social Reforms the Focus --------------------------------------

5.(C) As advertized, the focus of the conference was economic development, poverty alleviation and social reform. There was little mention of political reform, except the often cited "success" of what many consider controversial constitutional reforms affecting the election framework. President Mubarak referenced the importance of human rights, but criticized the narrow focus on political rights vs. economic and social "rights," a common theme for the president. NDP Secretary General Safwat Sherif highlighted the importance of "group rights" (vs. individual rights) in times of crisis. Sherif (along with President Mubarak) explicitly defined citizens as both Copts and Muslims (a comment that received applause in both speeches). The Citizenship, Human Rights and Democracy panel, moderated by Zakaria Azmi (NDP Assistant Secretary General for Organization and Membership), lacked substance and several NDP members who asked the panel questions openly expressed their disappointment (particularly on the issue of legislation to regulate the construction of places of worship). Azmi did say that the party would continue to work on updating voter rolls and supported local election monitoring efforts. The "highlight" of the panel was the significant time dedicated to a presentation by NDP spokesman Dr. Ali Eddin Hillal, on the importance of the expansion of "cultural rights," including preservation efforts and copyright protections.

6.(C) Several speakers claimed the NDP was open to the idea of a strong opposition. However, speakers just as often expressed concern that Egypt's opposition was ineffective and even dangerous in its current form. President Mubarak called for an "objective opposition" and Gamal Mubarak said there was an "appropriate substantive role" to be played by the opposition but called criticism of the NDP and its slogans unwarranted and "biased." Gamal used as an example the refusal of independent parliamentarians (a reference principally to Muslim Brotherhood MPs) to "seriously engage" on GoE proposed legislation. In the toughest criticism of the opposition at the conference, Ahmed Ezz (NDP Secretary for Organization) suggested the opposition was incapable of "positive politics," able only to "launch attacks in front of the cameras." He blamed opposition weakness on a "lack of substance" and support that was principally from outside Egypt. Ezz also called NDP members to action as the first line of defense against an opposition (although left-unsaid, the Muslim Brotherhood) that believes in "one guide, one voice, one ruler" and "one religion." ---------------------------- Succession Not on the Agenda ----------------------------

7.(C) Little reference was made to the 2011 presidential elections during the conference. Party support for Gamal's presidential aspirations was not explicit, though his position as NDP Assistant Secretary General and Policies Secretary put him in a key and highly visible role in leading the conference. Gamal was asked by an Al Jazeera journalist at the conference if he intended to run for President. He said "now was not the time," that the convention was to name a candidate only months before the elections, and cited "internal party procedures," which dictate the selection of the NDP candidate. President Mubarak also offered no clues on his thinking, but in a nod to the continued controversy, said Egypt is a "republic" that gives "priority" to the constitution and the state over the individual. ------------------------------------- "Old Guard" Leaders Still at the Helm -------------------------------------

8.(C) As chief symbol of the party's "old guard," NDP Secretary General Safwat Sherif kicked off the conference with a distinctive nationalist tone. His prepared speech began with a reference to the recent anniversary of Egypt's "victory" in the 1973 war. Sherif praised the conduct of the military and the police and called the NDP the party of "stability" and "security" that will continue to "defend the homeland." He said Egypt "stood strong" and "rejects any intervention in its internal affairs." Without mentioning Islamists by name, he called the NDP the "moderate's party" CAIRO 00002166 003 OF 004 and said Egypt would continue to battle extremism. Sherif praised the party's internal elections conducted over the summer, which he called a "self renewal" program, saying it had affirmed party unity. As the party's CEO, Sherif sat front and center during most of the conference, but when on the dais showed little interest in engaging with the audience.

9.(C) As President of the NDP President Mubarak spoke about Egypt's role in the world as well as the NDP's focus on "reform" and its continued relevance. Mubarak appeared vigorous and engaged while delivering his speech from prepared remarks (Note: Gamal, sitting in the front row, read the speech as his father spoke. End Note.), but regularly paused to joke with members that called out to him. President Mubarak was the first to announce the conference's biggest deliverable, a ten billion LE "stimulus package." Mubarak also promised expanded pension and health care benefits and called over population the "principal danger" Egypt faces. In an effort perhaps to answer the criticism cited earlier in the day that the NDP was concerned only about the elite, Mubarak said the farmer was the "heart of our priorities," called on all workers and businessmen to remember that they were "all in the same boat," and described the sons of the middle class as the "solid nucleus" of Egyptian society. He praised the party's "tangible" achievements but acknowledged the benefits had not reached all. He suggested the party was on the right track, with achievements that "speak for themselves." Mubarak said that the "road to reform was not easy" but the party had a "clear vision" and underscored the importance of the party's "youth." He called on those gathered to create an electoral program that would speak to the concerns of ordinary Egyptians, that "gains the confidence of the voters" and that "justifies" the NDP's majority. --------------------- And "New Guard" Style ---------------------

10.(C) While Gamal Mubarak openly rejected a split between the "old guard" and the "new guard" in his speech, differences of style were noticeable. In presentations sometimes accompanied by power point presentations, Gamal along with Zakaria Azmi (Note: Azmi, advisor to President Mubarak and a member of the party since its start in 1978, is "old guard" but is also known as an internal critic. He was called the "representative of the NDP opposition" while in parliament in the 1990s because of his overt criticism of the government. End Note) and Ahmed Ezz outlined in some detail the party's preparations for the upcoming elections. Projecting the image (literally as graphs were flashed on the screen behind them as they spoke) of a more transparent party structure, Gamal touted "tangible" economic achievements, while Azmi offered a detailed review of the party budget and Ezz reviewed the internal house-cleaning effort (resulting in a significant 38 percent turnover in NDP "cadres" or local leaders) and called for renewed party discipline (following a reference to "NDP independent" candidates that caused the party embarrassment in 2005).

11.(C) The reaction to Gamal from NDP rank and file was distinctly positive, with a rush to greet him as he entered the hall on the first morning. With the important exception of his father, each speaker praised his leadership in the party to long and loud applause. As in previous years, his greatest supporter appeared to be Ahmed Ezz whose hearty "baladi-style" clapping on Gamal's behalf and constant presence of the stage was the focus of satire by bloggers and independent media. Gamal spoke extemporaneously, occasionally referring to note cards. He appeared well-prepared, knew the points he was delivering and the message he intended to send. Known publically for having little personal charisma, Gamal was more expressive during his speech than in other parts of the conference. As a moderator of several panels he appeared competent, managing the panelists without interruption (unlike Ezz who interrupted regularly) and without missteps (unlike Azmi who regularly whispered to co-panelists without turning off his micro-phone), providing at the end of the panel a summary of the discussion.

12.(C) Gamal's formal remarks focused on election preparations and reform efforts while acknowledging past challenges. He spoke of the NDP's internal reform efforts that started in 2002 and culminated in the 2009 "party unit" elections and significant changes in party "cadres." Along with others at the conference, Gamal tried to downplay the party's dominance. He recognized that "political reality was changing," and said the NDP does not seek to "monopolize" politics but sought "healthy" dialogue. He referred to CAIRO 00002166 004 OF 004 "unprecedented freedom" in public discourse and the independent media that did not exist in the 2005 elections. Gamal said the party had "learned from its mistakes" in the last election, and would "enter these elections unified" with "competent new blood." He called on members to be "courageous and confident" when talking about the party platform. Gamal also refuted comments that the Policies Committee "dominated" the party.

13.(C) In the most rough and tumble speech of a fairly polished conference, Ahmed Ezz played the role of party rabble-rouser. In a mix of prepared points and extemporaneous remarks, Ezz challenged those who criticize the NDP, rejecting characterization of the NDP as the party of "manipulation" and "power" calling it the "party of the people." Ezz admitted the party had been internally disorganized in 2005 and urged party unity, saying "there can only be one," one seat, one candidate, one party. Not only the event organizer, Ezz was also its policeman, "shushing" the crowd and waving down those standing up to praise the speaker or complain.

14.(C) The conference venue was open to the media despite tight security that included a prohibition on cell phones. Several TV "studios" were set up at the conference center and, during breaks, senior NDP members and cabinet officials sat down with the media. The conference hall stage included a "jumbotron" backdrop that ran a regular loop of patriotic music videos, NDP advertisements and images of party leaders in action. As the conference members waited for Gamal to speak on day two, the screen ran images of his participation in a recent series of town hall-style meetings throughout Egypt. Shown before his speech, the biography of President Mubarak was set to an updated version of the national anthem and included images of Mubarak as a young soldier and rushing to Sadat's aid the day he was assassinated. The clip began with images of the burning Twin Towers in New York and wounded in last year's war in Gaza. In addition to formal speeches, the conference included a series of panel discussions. Several ministers (including the ministers of finance, housing, investment and local development) participated in more than one panel discussion. Ministers fielded questions in these non-televised portions of the conference. While some questions were clearly prompted by the organizers others taken from the crowd appeared less so. Scobey