Cablegate: Women's Issues Coordinator Visits Egypt


DE RUEHEG #1608/01 2120717
R 300717Z JUL 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


Sensitive but unclassified. Please protect accordingly.

1.(U) Summary: Andrea Bottner, the Department's Coordinator
for International Women's Issues, visited Egypt from July 14
through 19. During her visit, she met with leaders, both
from the government and civil society, working on issues
affecting Egyptian women, including the fight against female
genital mutilation (FGM), women's economic empowerment, and
family law. Many of the meetings focused on Egypt's new child
law, which criminalizes FGM and trafficking in children,
raises the minimum marriage age from 16 to 18, and provides a
mechanism for unwed mothers to obtain birth certificates for
their children. Ms. Bottner concluded her visit by meeting
with Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former United Nations
Secretary-General and current President of Egypt's National
Council on Human Rights, for a broad discussion of human
rights issues in the Middle East. End summary.

2. (U) Over the last 2 years, in an unprecedented step, the
GoE has selected and appointed 42 women to serve as judges in
Egypt's court system. Ms. Bottner met with 9 of the newly
appointed judges, along with Assistant Minister of Justice
Osama Ataweya, and discussed the new judges' experiences and
role in the court system. The newly appointed judges handle
a wide variety of cases in Egypt's trial courts, including
commercial, general civil and family law matters (but not
criminal cases). The women judges described positive
transitions to the bench and said that they had been welcomed
both by male judges and litigants. Several have already been
selected to serve in Egypt's appellate courts.

3.(SBU) Mushira Khattab, President of Egypt's National
Council on Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) (and a two-time
nominee by Embassy Cairo for the Secretary's International
Women of Courage Award) led the effort to win parliamentary
approval of Egypt's Unified Child Protection Law (the "Child
Law") and described for Ms. Bottner the key elements of the
law (reftel). FGM is a deeply entrenched cultural practice
in Egypt - affecting both Muslim and Christian women - and
the NCCM led the effort in recent years to try to end the
practice. These efforts culminated in the June 7 passage by
Egypt's Parliament of the Child Law, which criminalizes the
performance of FGM procedures. Other key components of the
law include criminalizing trafficking in children, raising
the minimum age for marriage from 16 to 18, and establishing
a mechanism for unwed mothers to register the births of their
children. Ms. Khattab said that although upper-levels of the
GoE supported the law, it faced opposition from socially
conservative members of Parliament, some of whom viewed the
law as a "Western Project." Ms. Khattab referred to the law
as a "revolution in human rights" and said the NCCM will now
focus on ensuring the law is fully implemented, which she
said will be an "uphill battle."

4.(U) Ms. Bottner visited two NGO's working on women's
issues, the Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance
(CEWLA) and the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights (ECWR).
She also discussed women's economic empowerment with Dr.
Sahar al Salab, the vice-chairwoman of Egypt's Commercial
International Bank (CIB), one of Egypt's largest and most
influential banks. At CEWLA, which provides legal assistance
- primarily in the area of family law - to impoverished
women, the organization's director identified extreme poverty
as the greatest challenge facing Egypt's women. At ECWR, the
head of the organization described its recently initiated
campaign against sexual harassment and its efforts to
convince the government to enact anti-harassment legislation.
At CIB, Salab discussed the success of the bank's
women-focused business unit, success driven by the relative
economic success of Egyptian women.

5.(SBU) Ms. Bottner, accompanied by the Acting Deputy Chief
of Mission, also met with Dr.Zeinab Radwan, Deputy Speaker of
Egypt's Parliament. The discussion focused on the Child Law.
Dr. Radwan described the debate over criminalizing FGM as
"heated," but expressed satisfaction that the debate ended in
the banning of the practice. Dr. Radwan described the
practice as un-Islamic and attributed it to Egypt's cultural
roots. Dr. Radwan also described "khul'" divorce, a Shari'a
law concept, now part of Egyptian civil law, which permits
women to divorce without establishing fault.

6.(SBU) Ms. Bottner concluded her visit by meeting with the
president of the quasi-governmental National Council on Human
Rights (NCHR), Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Boutros-Ghali, the
former United Nations Secretary-General, said he viewed
women's rights through the prism of human rights. According
to Boutros-Ghali, advances in human rights, especially in the
Middle East, are being slowed by the rise of religious
fundamentalism. He said fundamentalists view human rights as
a tool of the West, used selectively to criticize the Islamic
world. According to Boutros-Ghali, the West's post-September
11 treatment of Muslims has aided fundamentalists in arguing
their case. Boutros-Ghali also said that globalization is
forcing people, especially in poorer countries, to
figuratively retreat to their "villages" or "tribes" out of
fear of the unknown. Nonetheless, he said the NCHR continues
to advocate on behalf of human rights generally, and is
hopeful that a culture of respect for human rights will
ultimately take hold in Egypt and the region.


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