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Send Page To a Friend WikiLeaks: Egypt’s New Man at the Top 'Was Against Reform'

Christopher Hope, and Steven Swinford

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Field Marshal Mohamad Tantawi, the head of the Higher Military Council that took control of Egypt last week, was also against economic reforms because they create “social instability”.

The briefings, in cables handed to the WikiLeaks website, raise questions about the field marshal’s suitability for overseeing transition to a democratically elected government.

Today The Daily Telegraph publishes on its website hundreds of leaked cables written by US diplomats in the American embassy in Cairo and sent to Washington. One, sent from Cairo to Washington in March 2008 ahead of an official visit, reports how the 76-year-old field marshal was against change.

The cable states: “Tantawi has opposed both economic and political reforms that he perceives as eroding central government power. He is supremely concerned with national unity, and has opposed policy initiatives he views as encouraging political or religious cleavages within Egyptian society.”

Field Marshal Tantawi’s role as effective interim head of state was confirmed at the weekend after President Hosni Mubarak fled from Cairo to the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The communiqué also told of his opposition to economic reforms which had been pushed by President Mubarak.

The cable said: “Tantawi believes that Egypt’s economic reform plan fosters social instability by lessening GOE [government of Egypt] controls over prices and production.” He also rejected any deals regarding military equipment in return for concessions on human rights policy, the communiqué said.

Officials suggested that his age made him more conservative-minded, describing him as “aged and change-resistant”. The cable continued: “He and Mubarak are focused on regime stability and maintaining the status quo through the end of their time. They simply do not have the energy, inclination or world view to do anything differently.” Other cables show the extent to which the Egyptian armed forces have spread their influence through the country.

They claimed this power was exercised through the use of vetoes on commercial contracts due to “security concerns”.

One communiqué, sent in September 2008, said: “Contacts told us that military-owned companies, often run by retired generals, are particularly active in the water, olive oil, cement, construction, hotel and gasoline industries.” It was also suggested that “large amounts of land in the Nile Delta and on the Red Sea coast” were owned by the armed forces and seen as a “fringe benefit” in exchange for ensuring stability and security.