Reporting from Cairo — Often startling in their candid prose, confidential diplomatic cables from meetings between U.S. diplomats and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak reveal the longtime leader's deep animosity toward Iran, a cynical approach to democracy in Iraq and lingering resentment over complaints about his human rights record.
The 82-year-old president's comments, among the welter of secret documents released Sunday by WikiLeaks, offer a peek into the Mideast's jittery psychology and frustration over decades of conflict. Some cables make clear that Arabian peninsula monarchs have been privately imploring the U.S. to attack Iran's nuclear facilities.
Mubarak's statements, stripped of diplomatic veneer, provide a cutting assessment of his nation's longstanding animosity toward Tehran. In a 2008 memo on a meeting with Sen. John F. Kerry, Mubarak is quoted as saying the Iranians "are big, fat liars and justify their lies because they believe it is for a higher purpose."
But he frankly warned that no Arab state would help the U.S. in a military standoff with Tehran, for fear of "sabotage and Iranian terrorism." He went on to suggest that Iran's backing of terrorism is "well-known but I cannot say it publicly. It would create a dangerous situation."
On Iraq, Mubarak told U.S. congressmen at a 2008 meeting during the World Economic Forum that the U.S. could not immediately leave Iraq because of security concerns. He urged them "to strengthen the [Iraqi] armed forces, relax your hold, and then you will have a coup. Then we will have a dictator, but a fair one. Forget democracy, the Iraqis are by their nature too tough."
Months later, the U.S. ambassador to Cairo, Margaret Scobey, noted in a memo: "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."
Some of the leaked cables reveal political calculation spliced with personal observations of the colorful and shadowy characters driving foreign policy between Washington and Cairo. Scobey said in a 2009 report: "The Egyptians 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, " Egypt is very often a stubborn and recalcitrant ally."
In a memo briefing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton ahead of a meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Scobey described the Egyptian envoy as "smart, urbane, with a tendency to lecture and to avoid discussing Egyptian failings."
Relations between Washington and Cairo have been agitated over Egypt's human rights transgressions and repression of political freedoms. One cable describes Mubarak as particularly incensed when the U.S. mentions Ayman Nour, an opposition leader and former presidential candidate who spent years in jail on what were widely regarded as trumped-up charges.
"Mubarak takes this issue personally, and it makes him seethe when we raise it, particularly in public," according to Scobey's cable.
Cairo has criticized the U.S. and the West for being naive in pushing for wider freedoms in a nation that is key to Middle East security and one that has battled Islamic extremists for decades. The cables suggest that the Mubarak government believes the U.S. is turning opposition activists into martyrs at a time when the region is facing more insidious dangers.
The Egyptian president is also quoted as telling U.S. officials that their two countries have good relations but that "your administration is not well-informed.… I am patient by nature."