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Cablegate: Egypt Bans Demonstrations in Mosques and Churches

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DE RUEHEG #0464 0691455
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 091455Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8468
INFO RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS CAIRO 000464

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SENSITIVE

NSC STAFF FOR PASCUAL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KIRF KISL KDEM PHUM EG
SUBJECT: EGYPT BANS DEMONSTRATIONS IN MOSQUES AND CHURCHES

Sensitive but unclassified. Please protect accordingly.

1. (SBU) Summary: On February 22, Egypt's lower house of
Parliament, the Peoples' Assembly, passed a law banning
demonstrations "inside or around places of worship."
Although the law prohibits demonstrations in both churches
and mosques, the law appears specifically to target the
Muslim Brotherhood (MB) which frequently organizes protests
in and around mosques following Friday prayers. Human rights
advocates have criticized the law, expressing concern that
the GOE could eventually use it as a tool to limit freedom of
expression. Despite the inclusion of churches in the ban,
Coptic Church officials seem unconcerned, agreeing that the
law probably targets the MB and is unlikely to affect the
Church. End summary.

2. (SBU) The law, reportedly drafted by the Ministry of
Islamic Endowments, criminalizes "calling for or organizing"
demonstrations inside and around places of worship.
Demonstration organizers can be sentenced to up to one year
in prison and fined up to LE 5,000. Participating in
demonstrations inside or around places of worship is also now
illegal and carries a sentence of up to six months in prison
and a fine of up to LE 2,000. During legislative debate
about the law (which the MB opposed), the Minister of Islamic
Endowments, Mahmoud Zaqzouq, described the law as necessary
to protect the sanctity of places of worship which he said
"should not be turned into another Hyde Park." We are not
aware of any GOE attempts to enforce the new law.

3. (SBU) The MB claims the law specifically targets its
activities, and MB-affiliated members of parliament walked
out in protest during debate over the measure. MB members
and supporters often gather outside of Cairo's famous Al
Azhar Mosque and other mosques following Friday prayers, and
human rights activists agree that the law is probably focused
on such gatherings. More generally, human rights activists
have expressed their concern that the law, even if designed
to control MB activities now, would eventually be applied
more broadly to other demonstrations.

4. (SBU) In a recent meeting, a leading Coptic Church bishop
told us that he agreed with the MB's assertion that the law
targets the MB, and, therefore, the Coptic Church is not
concerned about it. He added that Copts traditionally do not
demonstrate in or around churches. Church lawyers were more
apprehensive and, while agreeing that the law is not aimed at
the Coptic Church, were concerned about the future
implications of what they described as a "vague" law.

5. (SBU) Comment: There is wide agreement that the law is
directed against the MB's practice of staging demonstrations
after Friday sermons. As with much legislative and legal
activity in Egypt, an assessment of the law's actual impact
will depend on how, and if, the GOE attempts to implement it.
The measure is, however, a further government warning to the
MB that the government is watching its activities closely,
and all the more as we approach the April 8th local
elections. End comment.

RICCIARDONE

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