Cablegate: Das Wittes Engages Goe, Civil Society On Elections, Naga


DE RUEHEG #0163/01 0351541
R 041541Z FEB 10

C O N F I D E N T I A L CAIRO 000163


E.O. 12958: DECL: 2035/02/04

REF: CAIRO 141; CAIRO 64; CAIRO 59; 09 CAIRO 2314; 09 STATE 130658

CLASSIFIED BY: Margaret Scobey, Ambassador; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)


-- (C) In meetings January 24-25, NEA DAS Tamara Cofman Wittes
assured activists of continuing U.S. commitment to promoting
democracy and human rights. She urged the GOE to use the penal
code, not the Emergency Law, to prosecute the January 6 sectarian
killings in Naga Hamadi.

-- (C) The quasi-governmental National Council for Human Rights plans to begin training domestic election observers March 1, and is trying to convince the GOE to accept international observers. Activists expected 2010 and 2011 elections will not be free and fair, and urged the U.S. to plan a strong public response.

-- (C) Deputy Foreign Minister Bassim said the GOE will use the Emergency Law to prosecute the Naga Hamadi killers quickly, and to
signal that the crime infringed on Egyptian "national security." MFA officials asserted a Unified Places of Worship Law could exacerbate, rather than calm, sectarian tensions.

-- (C) Responding to MFA opposition to USG funding for unregistered
Egyptian NGOs, DAS Wittes stressed that the U.S. wants to support
and engage with the full range of Egyptian civil society.

--------------------------------------------- --

Elections: Observers and Credibility

--------------------------------------------- --

2. (C) Secretary-General of the quasi-governmental National Council
for Human Rights (NCHR) Mukhlis Kutb said his organization plans to
begin on March 1 training domestic observers from certain Egyptian
NGOs for the 2010 Shura Council and Peoples' Assembly elections,
expected in June and November respectively. He noted the training
would be based on international and UN standards. He was confident
the GOE High Election Commission, which will administer the elections with the Interior Ministry, will accept NGOs trained by NCHR as domestic observers. He reiterated NCHR's position supporting international observers for the 2010 elections (ref D). Kutb asserted that the GOE is still considering whether to allow such observers. According to Kutb, NCHR is trying to convince the GOE to accept international observers by explaining that foreigners such as diplomats and journalists have observed previous elections, and will do so again. Kutb opined that the most important electoral reforms would be voter registration through national identification cards and transition to a party-list from a single-district system, but doubted the GOE would enact either before the 2010 elections.

3. (C) Human Rights lawyer XXXXXXXXXXXXXX said he expected the
coming elections not to be free and fair, and urged the U.S. to
begin planning a public response. He applauded A/S Posner's
January 14 public comments on the Naga Hamadi killings, and
encouraged the U.S. to consider using a similar public tone in
response to expected election violations. XXXXXXXXXXXXXX urged the U.S. to warn the GOE privately of "specific consequences" if the 2010 elections are a repeat of the 2005 contests. Director of the XXXXXXXXXXXXXX exhorted the U.S. to press for international observers; he assessed such observers would lend credibility to the elections, and result in increased voter turnout. Chair of XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX doubted international observers would
make a significant difference in the elections, noting she has been
an international observer for Arab elections that appeared to be
free and fair, but the governments had pre-determined the results
by manipulating the rules. Egyptian XXXXXXXXXXXXX asserted that only a constitutional amendment restoring judicial supervision of the
elections would result in higher voter turnout, but ruled out GOE
support for such an amendment.

4. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX said he plans to organize his
movement to expose 2010 parliamentary and 2011 presidential
election violations, using new media tools such as cell-phone cameras and mobile uploads. According to XXXXXXXXXXXX will support Mohammed El-Baradei for president, or any other candidate who runs on a "platform of change." XXXXXXXXXXXXXX said he has been urging former El-Ghad party president Ayman Nour to enlist El-Baradei to run as an El-Ghad candidate. He hoped that if international observers viewed violations, they could force the GOE to order a re-count.


Sectarian Killings in Naga Hamadi


5. (C) Deputy Foreign Minister Wafaa Bassim said the GOE wants
quick action, and needs to try the case under the Emergency Law to
underscore the issue's "relevance to national security" and the
GOE's clarity of purpose. Trying the case under the penal code
"would take ages," she asserted. Bassim acknowledged this action
is contrary to GOE assurances it uses the Emergency Law only for
terrorism and drug cases (ref E). She said the Public Prosecutor's
investigation has been thorough and transparent. MFA Deputy
Assistant Minister for Human Rights Wael Aboulmagd conceded the GOE has favored "superficial reconciliation" efforts in the past, and
did not respond "thoroughly" to sectarian violence. DAS Wittes expressed concern over broad GOE application of the Emergency Law,
and urged the GOE to try the case under the penal code. She worried that a quick trial could preclude a full investigation, and that lingering questions could erode public confidence in the government's handling of the issue.

6. (C) Aboulmagd said the GOE does not view the draft NCHR Unified
Places of Worship law, which would place approval for church and
mosque construction and repairs under uniform GOE criteria, as a
solution to sectarian tensions. He noted MOI views that such a law
would exacerbate sectarian problems, and that Muslims "would call
for Jihad" in response to increased church construction and
repairs. Aboulmagd doubted the GOE would take action on the draft

7. (C) Mukhlis Kutb said NCHR sent a research team to Naga Hamadi,
and will issue a detailed report on the killings. He attributed
the killings to "an atmosphere of hate" spread on television and
"on the streets." He assessed the GOE decided to try the
assailants in an Emergency State Security court because a regular
criminal trial "would take too much time." Kutb doubted a regular
criminal court would convict Muslims for murdering Copts, due to
"Sharia law considerations and the influence of mosques."

8. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXXX said "he feels humiliated every day as a Copt," hearing anti-Christian mosque sermons in his club and reading editorials in pro-government "Al-Ahram" newspaper that "the Bible is corrupt." He criticized the GOE for "allowing violence against Copts" by not prosecuting perpetrators. XXXXXXXXXXXXXblamed the GOE for not preventing the Naga Hamadi killings, and for not reforming the educational system to combat anti-Coptic sentiment.


U.S. Democracy Promotion


9. (C) MFA Deputy Assistant Minister for North American Affairs
Amin Meleka said the GOE "has a problem" with U.S. funding for
unregistered Egyptian NGOs through the Middle East Partnership
Initiative (MEPI). Deputy Assistant Minister for Human Rights Wael
Aboulmagd asserted that some NGOs choose not to register under the
NGO law, but continue to operate. He claimed registered NGOs
believe they are "at a disadvantage" by "playing by the rules."
DAS Wittes pushed back, saying that the U.S. wants to support the
full range of Egyptian civil society and the emergence of new
actors, and that the GOE denies or does not act on some NGO
applications. She hoped that the GOE would facilitate this process
and increase civil society's role. Separately, human rights
lawyer XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX called for public and private U.S. "moral
support" for Egyptian civil society, and asserted that such support
is more important than funding. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX urged the U.S. to fund only "competent" Egyptian NGOs, warning that many organizations are "weak." DAS Wittes assured civil society activists the U.S. is committed to promoting democracy and human rights, as evidenced by frequent public statements by the Secretary and other senior officials.

10. (U) DAS Wittes cleared this message.

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