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Viewing cable 09CAIRO1140, CIVIL SOCIETY LEADERS, U/S BURNS DISCUSS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09CAIRO1140 2009-06-21 13:01 2011-02-16 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Cairo
VZCZCXRO5088
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHEG #1140/01 1721316
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 211316Z JUN 09
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2893
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 001140 
 
SIPDIS 
 
FOR NEA, NEA/ELA AND DRL 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/21/2029 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM EG
SUBJECT: CIVIL SOCIETY LEADERS, U/S BURNS DISCUSS 
ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT, POTUS SPEECH AND HUMAN RIGHTS REF: A. CAIRO 928 B. CAIRO 839 C. CAIRO 300 D. 08 CAIRO 2297 Classified By: Ambassador Margaret Scobey for reason 1.4 (d).
1.KEY POINTS -- (C) On June 6, U/S Burns emphasized the importance that the U.S. attaches to civil society, human rights, and democracy issues, and his admiration for the courage and commitment of civil society leaders in Egypt. The President's Cairo speech is a clear expression of how the U.S. approaches the region, and the priority we give to tolerance and mutual respect. -- (C) Civil society leaders praised the President's call for a settlement freeze and generally agreed that increased contacts between Arab and Israeli NGOs would be premature. -- (C) Some activists were anxious that the President's speech did not contain more specific language on human rights and democracy. -- (C) Activists called for increasing free speech, strengthening judicial independence and fighting corruption to build an infrastructure for democracy. -- (C) A member of the National Council for Human Rights said the council will work to pass progressive laws before the February 2010 UN Universal Periodic Review of Egypt. -- (C) One opposition politician urged civil society leaders to focus on social services, not human rights, in advance of the 2010 parliamentary elections. ------------------------------------- Comments on the Arab-Israeli Conflict -------------------------------------

2.(C) Anwar Esmat El-Sadat of the El-Sadat Association for Social Development and Welfare, and nephew of the former president, called for developing civil society ties between Arabs and Israelis following the President's speech. Mona Zulficar of the quasi-governmental National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) disagreed, saying that civil society links would not be appropriate because of the recent Gaza war. Zulficar suggested focusing on a settlement freeze and direct negotiations. She asserted that the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict breeds extremism in Egypt.

3.(C) Secretary-General of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and NCHR member Hafez Abu Seada agreed that civil society contacts between Arabs and Israelis would not be appropriate, opining that such links would destroy the credibility of Egyptian NGOs. President of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights Hisham Kassem praised President Obama's call for a settlement freeze, but doubted whether the Palestinians are ready for a final status agreement. Opposition Al-Ghad Party Vice-President Wael Nawara urged the USG to engage with U.S. and Israeli civil society groups to confront pro-settlement forces and to stop settlement fundraising in the U.S. ------------------------------------- Reactions to President Obama's Speech -------------------------------------

4.(C) Zulficar praised the President's comments on democracy and human rights as "persuasive," saying that the "U.S. cannot impose" these values. She welcomed the speech's sections on development and poverty alleviation, and lauded the speech as "more powerful than all the years of U.S. aid." Hafez Abu Seada said Egyptian activists are anxious that human rights and democracy issues constituted a "small, non-specific part" of the speech. Hisham Kassem opined that the speech "brought the regime back from the dead" in focusing positive attention on Egypt. He praised the speech for bringing together an audience of diverse Egyptians from ministers to oppositionists, and welcomed the President's interviews with diverse media outlets. Cairo Director of the American-Islamic Congress Dalia Zeyada asserted that the President's decision to discuss democracy and human rights illustrated his support for the "Egyptian people, not the regime." -------------------------------------- Prospects for Progress on Human Rights CAIRO 00001140 002 OF 002 ---------------------------------------

5.(C) Zulficar said that the NCHR has developed an agenda for social and political rights, and is working on legislation to change the laws relevant to libel suits filed by citizens against journalists. Zulficar noted that the NCHR is also working on a draft law governing the construction of worship places. She stressed that the NCHR is interested in making progress on human rights issues in advance of the UN Human Rights Council's February 2010 Universal Periodic Review of Egypt. "The government wants to look good for the review," she confided. Zulficar praised U.S. educational exchange programs that send Egyptians to study in the U.S., saying that her participation in one such program "changed her life."

6.(C) Director of the Afro-Egyptian Human Rights Organization Engi El-Haddad stressed the importance of anti-corruption and transparency efforts. She urged U.S. pressure on the GOE to enact political reforms, predicting that the GOE will act against activists and political oppositionists in the absence of a strong U.S. message. El-Haddad underscored that democratic reform efforts must have a development component. She noted that the Egyptian population is not generally supportive of civil society, which makes NGOs' work more difficult. Anwar El-Sadat encouraged civil society development efforts to focus on Egyptian youth.

7.(C) Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies Bahey Al-Din Hassan called for a direct role for Egyptian civil society in the USG-GOE strategic dialogue. He criticized the GOE for "not listening to civil society." The Ambassador noted that the civil society component to the strategic dialogue would be important over the long-term, and that it would be useful for Egyptian civil society to conduct an internal dialogue to set its goals and priorities. Hafez Abu Seada criticized the GOE's "threats" to dissolve his organization following its reports criticizing the GOE's human rights record (ref B). Abu Seada welcomed the February release of Ayman Nour (ref C) and the overturning of a court ruling and prison sentence against Saad Eddin Ibrahim (ref A) as evidence of a new era in U.S.-Egyptian relations.

8.(C) Hisham Kassem said the Bush Administration had achieved some success in pressing the GOE to allow increased political openness, but that Egypt has no infrastructure to support democracy. He cited the lack of an independent judiciary, GOE harassment of political parties and the absence of a credible media. He described GOE intervention in the judicial system as "crippling." Kassem urged the Obama administration to invest in building democratic institutions in Egypt, and to have "zero tolerance" for GOE harassment of activists and politicians such as Saad Eddin Ibrahim and Ayman Nour. ---------------------- Egyptian Civil Society ----------------------

9.(C) Al-Ghad Party Vice-President Wael Nawara called for Egyptian civil society to focus on social services such as education and health care in advance of the 2010 parliamentary elections. He predicted that emphasizing social services under the banner of secular liberalism would strengthen the secular opposition. Nawara urged secular liberals to provide a broad package of a compelling ideology, a clear message and social services. He noted that Egypt has a strong tradition of civil society providing services, citing the example of civil society's leading role in establishing Cairo University.

10.(U) U/S Burns cleared this message. SCOBEY