Cablegate: Goe Removes Outspoken National Council for Human Rights

DE RUEHEG #0201/01 0461233
R 151233Z FEB 10

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 000201


E.O. 12958: DECL: 2035/02/15

REF: 10 CAIRO 163; 10 CAIRO 47; 09 CAIRO 1948

CLASSIFIED BY: Donald A. Blome, Minister-Counselor, State, ECPO; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1.KEY POINTS -- (SBU) On February 8, Egypt's Upper House of Parliament announced the new composition of the quasi-government National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) for a three year term beginning this month. The most prominent change is the GOE's replacement of outspoken Vice-President Kamal Aboulmagd with former Chief Justice of the Court of Cassation (Egypt's highest appeals court) Moqbel Shaker. -- (C) Aboulmagd had been publicly critical of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) arrests that began in June 2009, and made public comments in December supporting presidential term limits. Apparently Aboulmagd was not informed in advance of the announcement, and some observers believed this was a calculated "humiliation" by the GOE. -- (C) Human rights activists criticized Aboulmagd's removal, and interpreted it as a message that the GOE will no longer tolerate outspoken NCHR criticism. -- (C) NCHR member and NDP insider Hossam Badrawi told us this personnel change would not affect the council's substantive advocacy for human rights advances.

2.(C) Comment: The GOE established the NCHR in 2003 with a mandate to issue human rights recommendations and field complaints from citizens, but not to implement policy initiatives. The NCHR's annual reports have sharply criticized the GOE, and offered substantive recommendations on a range of key human rights issues. The council has been dominated by ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) insiders, and the new composition is no exception. Outgoing Vice-President Aboulmagd is a former minister and legal scholar, and perhaps believed that his stature provided him political cover to comment publicly on sensitive issues, such as MB arrests and presidential term limits. Aboulmagd's departure will probably not affect the NCHR's already limited ability to influence the GOE, but his removal may be an indicator of the GOE's anxiety over prominent dissenting voices as the coming elections near. End comment. -------------------------------- New NCHR Composition --------------------------------

3.(SBU) On February 8, the Upper House of Parliament announced the NCHR's composition of 25 members, a president, vice-president and secretary-general for its new three year term beginning this month. The new council's first meeting is scheduled for February 25. Former Chief Justice of the Court of Cassation Moqbel Shaker replaced Kamal Aboulmagd as Vice-President. (Note: Aboulmagd is the father of MFA Deputy Assistant Minister for Human Rights Wael Aboulmagd. End note.) Former Foreign Minister and UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali will remain as president, and MFA detailee Ambassador Mukhlis Kutb will continue as Secretary-General. The GOE named eight new members to the council, and removed seven others; one member had passed away. Contacts told us the seven departing members were not active or influential. The eight new members include two parliamentarians, a former minister of administrative affairs, the heads of the press and bar syndicates, two former prosecutors and a senior NDP legal official. Two new members are Copts, one of whom is a woman. CAIRO 00000201 002 OF 002 --------------------------------------------- --------- Activists Critical of Aboulmagd's Removal --------------------------------------------- ----------

4.(C) Human rights lawyer Negad El-Borai viewed Aboulmagd's dismissal as part of the GOE's resistance to political reform in the run-up to the 2010 parliamentary and 2011 presidential elections. He described new Vice-President Moqbel Shaker as a pro-government jurist who will not publicly criticize the GOE on sensitive issues. El-Borai asserted that while the NCHR has always lacked a mandate to effect change, "kicking out" Aboulmagd sends a clear message that the GOE wants less public criticism from the NCHR. (Note: Aboulmagd had been publicly critical of the GOE's mass arrests of Muslim Brotherhood members that began in May 2009. In a December 2009 interview in the independent "Shorouq" newspaper, Aboulmagd voiced support for a two-term presidential term limit. End note.) El-Borai described new member Iskander Ghattas, an MP, as "the only bright light" due to his human rights work at the Justice Ministry. El-Borai expressed concern over one new member, former prosecutor Ragga Al-Araby, who El-Borai believed condoned torture in the 1990's.

5.(C) Afro-Egyptian Human Rights Organization Director Engi El-Haddad criticized new Vice-President Shaker's previous opposition to judicial independence and the 2006 Judges' Club strike. She described Shaker as "the GOE's man" in the judiciary. Anti-corruption activist Randa El-Zoghbi who runs the Center for International Private Enterprise's Egypt program asserted that Aboulmagd's removal is a sign the GOE is not serious about human rights. She contended that Shaker "doesn't know about human rights." --------------------------------------------- ---------------------- NCHR Members Downplay Aboulmagd's Departure --------------------------------------------- ----------------------

6.(C) NDP policies committee member and Gamal Mubarak confidante Hossam Badrawi, who is an NCHR member, told us the change will not affect the council's substantive work. He was confident that the NCHR would continue advocating for human rights advances, and that its next annual report would express strong criticism of GOE policies. Badrawi said that the core, active members of the council are still in place - including himself, independent activist Hafez Abu Seada, attorney Mona Zulficar, and opposition politician Osama El-Ghazali Harb - and would continue trying to make progress. Badrawi praised Aboulmagd as a "great asset to the NCHR," and told us he did not know why the GOE dismissed him. Hafez Abu Seada, the only independent human rights activist on the council, told us he hoped Shaker could parlay his GOE ties into effective lobbying for human rights advances. Abu Seada believed Aboulmagd did not want to leave the council. SCOBEY

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