Cablegate: Upr Reaction: Goe Displeased with the U.S., Activists

DE RUEHEG #0253/01 0561513
R 251512Z FEB 10

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 CAIRO 000253


E.O. 12958: DECL: 2035/02/25

REF: 10 CAIRO 187; 09 CAIRO 2395; 09 CAIRO 2277; 09 CAIRO 1948
09 CAIRO 1433

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


-- (C) GOE officials, including presidential advisor Soliman Awad,
expressed displeasure with the number and the tone of U.S.
recommendations at the February 17 UN Human Rights Council's
Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Egypt's human rights record.

-- (C) The MFA noted it had accepted U.S. recommendations to lift
the State of Emergency and replace it with a counterterrorism law
guaranteeing civil liberties, and to amend the legal definition of
torture to be consistent with its obligations under the UN
Convention Against Torture.

-- (C) Human rights activists criticized the GOE for "wrongly"
rejecting U.S. recommendations, and "denying the facts of its human
rights violations." Activists said they would follow up with the
GOE on implementing recommendations although the GOE's commitments
are non-binding.

-- (U) In local media coverage, independent outlets reported
western countries' recommendations for the GOE to improve its human
rights record, while the pro-government media emphasized GOE
officials' responses to the recommendations.

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

GOE Displeased with U.S. Recommendations

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

2. (C) On February 24, presidential advisor Soliman Awad expressed
concern to the Ambassador over the number of U.S. recommendations.
Awad said the U.S. should focus on principles regarding religious
freedom, not conversions and proselytizing which "makes Egyptians
suspicious," he claimed. MFA Deputy Director for Human Rights Omar
Shalaby told us the GOE was displeased with both the number and the
tone of U.S. recommendations, "especially in light of recent
bilateral cooperation in the UN Human Rights Council." He said
that on instruction from the MFA, Ambassador Shoukry had conveyed
this message to Vice President Biden's staff during a meeting to
discuss the Vice President's planned upcoming visit to Cairo, and
the Egyptian Permanent Representative in Geneva had made these
points to the U.S. Mission. Shalaby explained that although
European countries made many of the same recommendations, the GOE
was "less bothered" because it does not enjoy "the same level of
cooperation with the Europeans."

3. (C) Shalaby disputed the U.S. recommendation to eliminate legal
and bureaucratic restrictions on an individual's choice of
religion, claiming that the obstacles are practical, not legal. We
pushed back, noting court rulings against converts from Islam to
Christianity. "The number of recommendations in itself is an
issue," Shalaby noted, and he said the high number led to GOE
speculation over U.S. motives. According to Shalaby, some in the
GOE wondered whether the U.S. was under "external pressure" to be
more "hawkish" on human rights in Egypt, or whether the U.S.
intervention was "retribution" for U.S.-Egyptian differences over
procedure during the 2009 Israel UPR. We told Shalaby that the
recommendations reflect U.S. concern over a broad range of human
rights issues in Egypt. (Note: The MFA's February 18 public
statement did not mention U.S. recommendations. The statement
welcomed the UPR process as an opportunity to demonstrate "Egypt's
human rights progress," and rejected recommendations "by a few

CAIRO 00000253 002 OF 003

western countries" on "issues related to homosexuals," and marriage
and divorce. End note.)


"Healthy Aspects to the Process"


4. (C) Shalaby said the GOE believed it had accepted some important
recommendations, such as those by the U.S. to replace the State of
Emergency with a counterterrorism law guaranteeing civil liberties,
and to ensure the legal definition of torture conforms with its
obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture. He also noted
the GOE accepted recommendations to combat religious
discrimination. Shalaby was pleased with GOE interactions with
Egyptian civil society during the UPR, saying that Parliamentary
Affairs Minister Mufeed Shehab met twice with NGOs in Geneva.

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

Activists Critical of GOE Performance

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

5. (C) Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Director Hossam
Bahgat who attended the UPR assessed that the GOE delegation was
"very weak on substance." According to Bahgat, the GOE was "wrong"
in rejecting as inaccurate U.S. recommendations on arrests of
activists under the Emergency Law, and restrictions on choosing
religion. Bahgat wished the U.S. had explicitly noted GOE arrests
of Muslim Brotherhood members. Cairo Institute for Human Rights
Studies Director Moataz El-Feigery criticized the GOE for "denying
facts," and demonstrating a lack of political will. He was
pessimistic that the GOE would implement recommendations.
El-Feigery believed Egyptian NGOs were able to successfully
influence western countries' recommendations. He welcomed western
countries' recommendations, but would have liked more discussion of
GOE legal restrictions on presidential candidates (ref B details
these restrictions).

6. (C) Human Rights lawyer Nasser Amin who attended the UPR called
Arab League and Organization of the Islamic Conference support for
Egypt "absurd." He believed these interventions were coordinated,
due to their similarity in heaping praise on superficial GOE
efforts. Amin said Minister Shehab told NGOs privately that he
wanted to "open a new page with civil society," but Amin criticized
Shehab for not "seriously addressing" the issues during the UPR
session. President of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Hafez Abu Seada said he will press the GOE to implement the
recommendations it accepted, especially on amending the legal
definition of torture. Abu Seada, who is also a member of the
quasi-governmental National Council for Human Rights, told us he
asked Minister Shehab to involve civil society in implementing the


Local Media Coverage


7. (SBU) The Egyptian media covered the UPR session and its
aftermath in news stories, but provided little analytical
commentary. The independent print press focused its reporting on
western countries' recommendations, while the pro-government media
covered the GOE's responses to the recommendations. A popular
satellite television talk show aired comments from activists and
opposition politicians criticizing the GOE for not engaging more

CAIRO 00000253 003 OF 003

with civil society in advance of the UPR, and for violating
Egyptians' human rights. Pro-government paper "Rose El-Youssef,"
which is close to the Interior Ministry, reported Minister Shehab
saying Egypt would not accept recommendations conflicting with its
"social and cultural context." "Rose El-Youssef" also reported
that the MFA's February 18 statement rejected recommendations on
"issues related to homosexuals."

© Scoop Media

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