EGYPT UPDATE: US Knew of Regime Change Plan in 2008, Obama Confronted Mubarak Repeatedly
This morning, the streets of Cairo and Alexandria remain flush with its people, demanding total regime change even after the Egyptian cabinet has gone. Al-Jazeera reports that tens of thousands of citizens defied a state-issued curfew and kept protesting for Mubarak to leave, while some factions of the military refused to enforce the curfew. "They are calling for regime change, not cabinet change," according to Al-Jazeera reporter Rawya Rageh. Yesterday, at least three people were killed while attempting to overrun the interior ministry.
This is the fifth day of massive countrywide protests in Egypt, but today the Telegraph published a report that the US has known of the regime change for at least three years. According a secret WikiLeaks cable, the US Embassy in Cairo provided assistance for an Egyptian activist to attend a 2008 conference in New York. When he returned, he told US Ambassador Margaret Scobey that dissidents had created a plan to enact pro-democracy 'regime change' before the elections in September of this year. Other US diplomats, after learning of the plan, reportedly offered their support to the activist, whose identity is being kept secret and is now being detained by Egyptian authorities. The Telegraph:
The memo, which Ambassador Scobey sent to the US Secretary of State in Washington DC, was marked “confidential” and headed: “April 6 activist on his US visit and regime change in Egypt.”
It said the activist claimed “several opposition forces” had “agreed to support an unwritten plan for a transition to a parliamentary democracy, involving a weakened presidency and an empowered prime minister and parliament, before the scheduled 2011 presidential elections”. The embassy’s source said the plan was “so sensitive it cannot be written down”.
Concurrently, President Obama repeatedly confronted Mubarak about his human rights practices and his peoples' discontent. White House senior advisor David Axelrod, in an exit interview with Nightline last night, he detailed the intricacies of opposing the leader's methods but remaining one of Egypt's allies.
AXELROD: Obviously these are the challenges of the presidency in a very difficult world. And, but the way he’s confronted it, is he went to Cairo and talked about the need, the universal human rights of people. He’s -- on several occasions directly confronted Pres. Mubarak on it. And pushed him on the need for political reform --
TAPPER: To get ahead of this.
AXELROD: -- in his country. Exactly to get ahead of this. This is a project he’s been working on for 2 years and today the president is working hard to encourage restraint and a cessation of violence against the people of Egypt.
Axelrod also reiterated that should the existing Egyptian government continue to practice infractions against its people, the US will potentially revoke its aid. However, according to the Huffington Post, the Obama Administration has been doing just that, but on the pro-democracy side -- cutting budgets for NGOs and civil society programs and evoking mixed reactions from human rights activists.
In its first year, the Obama administration cut funding for democracy and governance programming in Egypt by more than half, from $50 million in 2008 to $20 million in 2009 (Congress later appropriated another $5 million). The level of funding for civil society programs and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) was cut disproportionately, from $32 million to only $7 million. Though funding levels for 2010 are not yet available, they are expected to show an increase to $14 million, says Stephen McInerny, the director of advocacy at the Project on Middle East Democracy. He notes that the Bush administration slashed economic aid to Egypt in the 2009 budget but kept the funding for democracy and governance programs constant, while Obama cut funding to those programs in an effort to make the cuts more proportional and under pressure from the American embassy in Cairo.