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Viewing cable 10CAIRO47, SCENESETTER FOR A/S POSNER'S JANUARY 12-15

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
10CAIRO47 2010-01-06 14:02 2011-02-16 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Cairo
VZCZCXRO1738
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHEG #0047/01 0061417
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 061417Z JAN 10 ZDS
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4689
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 CAIRO 000047 
 
C O R R E C T E D  C O P Y 
 
SIPDIS 
 
FROM CDA TUELLER FOR A/S POSNER TEL AVIV PLEASE PASS TO A/S POSNER 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/06/2030 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM KIRF ELAB EG
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR A/S POSNER'S JANUARY 12-15 
VISIT TO CAIRO 
 
REF: A. 09 CAIRO 2283 
     B. 09 CAIRO 2277 
     C. 09 CAIRO 2209 
     D. 09 CAIRO 2164 
     E. 09 CAIRO 1836 
     F. 09 CAIRO 928 
 
CAIRO 00000047  001.2 OF 004 
 
 
Classified By: CDA Matthew H. Tueller for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
 
1. KEY POINTS 
 
-- (C) The impact of the political reform process that started at the beginning of this decade is mixed.  Activists and opposition politicians are increasingly engaged in political life and the independent press has achieved a substantial degree of freedom to criticize the government. 
 
-- (C) However, the government continues to suppress the political opposition, retaliate against journalists and bloggers, and restrict religious freedom. 
 
-- (C) As the 2010 parliamentary and 2011 presidential elections approach, President Mubarak continues to resist taking steps that could weaken his hold on power, and significant political reform has had little traction. 
 
-- (C) We continue to urge the GOE to take steps forward such as lifting the State of Emergency, allowing increased political pluralism and respecting religious freedom. 
 
2. (C) A/S Posner, we warmly welcome you to Cairo, and are scheduling meetings with a wide range of interlocutors from the Egyptian government, civil society and political parties. We are scheduling a press conference for you to emphasize the themes in the Secretary's December 14 speech to the Egyptian public.  Your visit will afford you the opportunity to engage with government officials who are skeptical of U.S. efforts to promote democracy and human rights, and press them on implementing a reform agenda.  You will also have the 
opportunity to reassure activists and opposition politicians who are concerned that the Obama Administration has backed 
away from supporting political reform. 
 
------------------- 
Political Landscape 
------------------- 
 
3. (C) The 2011 presidential elections and the question of succession are the focus of most domestic political discussions.  President Mubarak may well run for another five-year term, although nothing is certain.  Opposition and civil society observers complain about biased election rules, including constitutional reforms in 2007 that effectively 
block independent candidates.  They have called for additional reforms before the elections, including improvements to the voting lists and a return to judicial monitoring of each ballot box.  While the GOE will allow domestic monitoring, international monitors remain a sensitive topic, with many, even members of the opposition, calling it foreign intervention.  Statements from putative candidates such as retired IAEA Chairman Mohammed El Baradei, who suggested he was open to the idea of running for president should there be significant changes to the 
electoral system, have dominated headlines and drawn fire from NDP supporters.  We regularly raise with the GOE the importance of allowing free and fair elections, and the value of international monitors. 
 
4. (C) As the 2010 parliamentary and 2011 presidential electionsapproach, significant political reform has fallen off the agenda.  In his November 19, 2009 speech to parliament, Mubarak emphasized a socio-economic program for the poor, claiming necessary political reforms had already been implemented (ref C).  Few observers believe a risk-averse President Mubarak will support significant political reforms before 2011, as he is concerned that changes could weaken the power of entrenched interests within the NDP, the military and the intelligence services. 
In private discussions, Mubarak and other senior leaders argue that without strong authorities to combat religious extremists, the stability of Egypt would be at risk.  Ongoing internal GOE discussions regarding a draft counterterrorism law that would replace the Emergency Law, set to expire in April, are stalled, and the Emergency Law could once again be renewed.  Frustrated political activists have suggested that a post-Mubarak landscape offers the best prospect for increased political openness, and some are advocating for a transitional caretaker government to install more democratic institutions, although such a scenario is unlikely. 
 
5. (C) U.S. funding supports civil society efforts to train 
 
CAIRO 00000047  002.2 OF 004 
 
 
candidates and domestic monitors, educate voters and provide technical assistance to the GOE in administering the elections.  However, the GOE remains skeptical of our role in democracy promotion, contending that any efforts to open up will result in empowering the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which currently holds 86 seats in Egypt's 454-seat parliament. 
Widespread arrests and internal dissent have weakened the MB and its electoral chances, but many still see it as the only alternative to the current regime and a weak secular opposition.  We have urged the GOE to expand the space provided to political actors, including allowing for the registration of new parties.  GOE-sanctioned harassment of political activists continues.  The most high-profile has been a decision by the GOE to deny Ayman Nour an exit visa to travel 
to Washington. 
 
----------------------------------------- 
Human Rights and Political Reform Stalled 
----------------------------------------- 
 
6. (C) The impact of the political reform process that started at the beginning of this decade is mixed.  On the positive side, the reformlegacy includes a largely empowered and independent press, a more influential and active labor movement, a renewed focus on women's and children's rights (we expect long-awaited comprehensive Anti-TIP legislation to be passed this year), secular opposition politicians and civil society activists eager to increase their engagement in political life, and liberal-minded members of the NDP (many close to presidential son Gamal Mubarak) focused on internal party reforms.  However, significant human rights concerns remain, and the GOE has largely rebuffed our attempts to encourage specific reforms since the lead-up to President Obama's June 4 visit to Cairo. 
 
7. (C) Since May 2009, we have asked the government to take 
several steps forward, including: 
 
-- Lift the State of Emergency, and replace it with a counterterrorism law guaranteeing civil liberties. 
-- Release detained bloggers. 
-- Facilitate monitoring for the 2010 and 2011 elections. 
-- Register the U.S. NGOs operating in Egypt: NDI, IRI and IFES. 
-- Publicly endorse the quasi-governmental National Council for Human Rights' (NCHR) May 2009 recommendations, which include lifting the State of Emergency, addressing sectarian tensions, abolishing prison sentences for journalists, and passing legislation to combat torture more effectively. 
-- Pass uniform places of worship legislation to allow Christians to worship freely, and redress discrimination. 
-- Issue ID cards for Bahai'is. 
 
8. (C) The issuing of identification documents to some of Egypt's Bahai's in recent months is a positive development, but implementation has been slow and limited to unmarried Bahai's.  The GOE has not taken action on the other measures.  Copts have called for a uniform law to establish equal rules for building mosques and churches, but the GOE does not appear to support such a draft law due to concerns over 
sectarian clashes that often erupt, especially in rural areas, in response to church-building.  Well-placed NCHR contacts have told us in recent weeks that President Mubarak will likely renew the State of Emergency before it expires in May 2010 in deference to the Interior Ministry, which has argued that it uses vital provisions in only a limited number of counterterrorism cases.  However, in recent months the GOE has used the Emergency Law to arrest and detain a large number of MB members, and it continues to hold two bloggers under the Emergency Law. 
 
9. (C) The government's November 2009 report for the UN Human 
Rights Council's February 17 Universal Periodic Review of Egypt makes voluntary pledges to "finalize the text of a balanced counterterrorism law," "review" the legal definition of torture, and consider legal amendments to prevent third parties from filing defamation suits.  (Note:  The current legal definition of torture is limited to the context of extracting confessions.  Current law allows anyone to file defamation cases on behalf of the "public good."  End note.) 
The report also pledges to "review" the NCHR's recommendation to enact a uniform places of worship law, and to enact legislation on issues such as NGOs, disabilities, and human trafficking.  The pledges cover most of the issues raised in the NCHR's May 2009 recommendations, but are largely generalized and non-committal following months of inter-agency negotiations (ref B). 
 
 
CAIRO 00000047  003.2 OF 004 
 
 
--------------------- 
Freedom of Expression 
--------------------- 
 
10. (C) The government generally allows a wide range of criticism in the independent print press, but imposes constraints on mass media outlets.  It limits dissent in privately-owned satellite television talk shows, and prevents any critical commentary on GOE-owned television and radio. In recent months, the government and NDP members have brought suits against journalists and writers who have criticized the NDP and the Interior Ministry.  Defamation suits, sometimes on political grounds, continue to proliferate, and a journalist was briefly jailed in July for allegedly defaming an MP with ties to the Interior Ministry. 
 
11. (SBU) Three bloggers remain in prison (ref E).  XXXXXXXXXXXX, who has been jailed since October 2006, was sentenced to four years in prison in February 2007 for insulting Islam and President Mubarak.  On December 22, a court rejected XXXXXXXXXXX's most recent appeal.  The GOE jailed XXXXXXXXXXX under the Emergency Law in October 2008 following posts deemed offensive to Christianity and Islam.  The GOE has also used the Emergency Law to detain activist and blogger XXXXXXXXXXXXX since December 2007 following posts about difficulties faced by Sinai Bedouin.  The GOE also intimidates and harasses some bloggers who are critical of its policies. 
 
12. (U) Prominent democracy activist XXXXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXXXXX) remains in self-imposed exile in the United States following a June 2007 civil suit accusing him of committing "espionage" by urging President Bush to condition aid to Egypt.  In May 2009, an appeals court reversed an August 2008 civil ruling against XXXXXXXXXXXXXX for "tarnishing Egypt's image abroad" in a suit filed by an NDP activist, and overturned the two-year prison sentence and fine (ref F).  The appeals court also ruled that the five to six pending civil lawsuits against XXXXXXXXXXXXX on similar 
grounds be referred to the Prosecutor General (attorney-general equivalent) for investigation.  The Public Prosecutor referred a separate criminal case against XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX for investigation in January 2009 for allegedly committing "espionage" by asserting in newspaper articles that he had 
convinced President Bush to withhold aid because of lack of progress on democratic reform. 
 
---------------- 
Police Brutality 
---------------- 
 
13. (C) While the GOE and its supporters claim that police brutality is unusual, human rights lawyers believe it continues to be a pervasive, daily occurrence in prisons, police stations and Interior Ministry State Security (SSIS) headquarters (ref D).  Activists assert that the police and SSIS have adapted to increased media and blogger focus on 
police brutality by hiding the abuse and pressuring victims not to bring cases.  Human rights lawyers believe the GOE should reduce pressure on officers to solve cases immediately, allow suspects to be accompanied by an attorney during questioning in police detention, and amend the laws to increase the penalties for brutality.  We expect USG-funded human rights-oriented police training will resume in late January.  Draft legislation increasing penalties for police brutality and broadening the definition of torture has languished in the Ministry of Justice. 
 
----------------- 
Religious Freedom 
----------------- 
 
14. (C) Religious minorities in Egypt generally worship without restriction, and in many cases play leading roles in the country,s business and professional sectors.  Despite this, the GoE and Egyptian society's respect for religious freedom is poor.  Copts and other Christians complain bitterly about the difficulties they face, particularly 
outside of major cities, in obtaining required government approval to build and renovate churches.  Copts also point to the GoE's failure to aggressively intervene, both during and after sectarian clashes, to protect Christian property and prosecute perpetrators of violence.  Copts believe the GoE's encouragement of "reconciliation," in lieu of criminal penalties, encourages further violence, and along with the failure to enact uniform standards for mosque and church construction, stigmatizes Copts as second class citizens. 
 
15. (C) While there is no statutory prohibition on religious conversion and Egypt's constitution guarantees freedom of 
 
CAIRO 00000047  004.2 OF 004 
 
 
belief, court rulings and bureaucratic hurdles represent a prohibition in practice on conversion from Islam to Christianity.  Converts from Islam to Christianity also complain of societal and governmental harassment and a number of converts have been convicted or detained for possessing forged documents stating that they are Christian. 
 
----- 
Labor 
----- 
 
16. (C) Egypt,s on-going wave of strikes and labor unrest has continued.   Although Egypt's labor law requires that striking workers receive the approval of a GoE-affiliated "general trade union" before striking,  a requirement that most strikers ignored, strikes generally proceed with minimal GoE interference.  Egypt's independent Real Estate Tax Collectors Union (RETU), founded in 2008, continues to 
operate, despite a law requiring that all trade unions join the GoE-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation.  Labor activism focuses on economic issues,  and it is unclear whether Egypt's labor movement will take on a more overtly political role. 
Tueller