Even as they were officially supporting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, American officials were secretly helping dissidents interested in using social media to overthrow his regime, a secret dispatch from the U.S. embassy in Cairo has revealed.
The cable, dated December 30, 2008 and recently released on the Wikileaks website, also describes a plot to oust Mr. Mubarak in 2011, which it dismisses as "unrealistic."
It says a leader of the April 6 Youth Movement - a Facebook-driven group that has played a major role in Egypt's current upheaval - told U.S. officials that opposition groups had agreed on a plan to replace the autocrat with a parliamentary democracy, including a weakened presidency and executive prime minister, before scheduled elections in September 2011.
He listed several groups as being part of the scheduled uprising, including the liberal Waft Party, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Revolutionary Socialists and Kefaya, a broad-based reform movement, and said this loose coalition of groups hoped for support from the army and police to form a provisional government ahead of elections.
"[The dissident]offered no roadmap of concrete steps toward April 6's highly unrealistic goal of replacing the current regime with a parliamentary democracy prior to the 2011 presidential elections," wrote U.S. Ambassador Margaret Scobey, who described the young man as being "outside the mainstream" of Egypt's opposition movements.
Social media has become key in organizing youth-driven protests that erupted across Egypt this week and saw their most violent day yet Friday, as tens of thousands of demonstrators torched police vehicles and the ruling party's headquarters.
In the cable, American officials are described as having pressed the Egyptian government to release several jailed political prisoners and appear to take an interest in activists' stories of repression at the hands of Mr. Mubarak's regime.
In the case of the April 6 leader, whose name has been redacted from the document to protect his identity, U.S. officials helped him attend the "Alliance of Youth Movements Summit," which took place in early December 2008 at Columbia University in New York.
The summit, which featured speeches by such people as Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and an undersecretary in the U.S. State Department, was billed as a chance for young activists from around the world to discuss using the Internet to effect social change.
Ms. Scobey says the activist was happy with the summit, where dissidents in other countries gave him suggestions on how April 6 members could evade surveillance from Egyptian spies; others also invited him to visit and speak at protests in support of Egyptian democracy.
The State Department successfully kept his name secret at the summit, the cable says.
During the same trip, the anonymous dissident also met with several people on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in hopes of convincing them to pressure Egypt to implement democratic reforms by freezing its offshore bank accounts.
The cable says he met with Representative Edward Royce, a Republican from California who sits on the foreign affairs committee, as well as staffers from other representatives' and senators' offices, and members of various think tanks.
The office of Virginia Republican Frank Wolf invited him to speak in late January of the following year on a House resolution on religious and political freedom in Egypt, but he was unsure if he could afford to attend.
Upon his return to Egypt on Dec. 18, state security officials detained and searched the dissident at Cairo Airport, confiscating notes for his presentation to the summit and his schedule of meetings in Washington, according to the document. He told embassy officials that an officer told him the state was compiling a file on him.
The final paragraphs in the memo detail April 6 activists who have apparently been arrested by the authorities, as well as the U.S.'s attempts to have some released, and concludes with an assessment that, given security officials' harassment of the dissidents, even the leader with whom the embassy has been in contact conceded there were no plans to carry the movement forward._