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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
05CAIRO2733 2005-04-07 14:58:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Cairo
Cable title:  

MIXED REVIEWS OF HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL'S FIRST

Tags:   PHUM PGOV PREL EG 
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1. (C) Summary: After several months of delay, the
National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) has completed its
first annual report on the state of human rights in Egypt.
After review by the Presidency, the document is expected to
be released next week. Our discussions with NCHR contacts
suggest conflicting views from within the organization about
the credibility and usefulness of the report. Many NCHR
members give the report high marks, but one usually reliable
contact told us that the report has been "cooked" by the GOE.
We will have to wait until the report is actually released
to make our own judgment about the degree to which the report
strengthens or weakens the NCHR's credibility and furthers
human rights transparency in the Arab world. End summary.



2. (C) In a poll of five NCHR members, the majority
expressed confidence that the report would demonstrate
progress on human rights in Egypt. Hafez Abou Se'ada, the
head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, told us
that he was "very pleased with the result." Abou Se'ada
noted that the executive summary took a "glass half-full"
approach, indicating where the GOE was making progress in the
struggle for human rights. Abou Se'ada said that the
references to specific human rights violations, which serve
as evidence of the GOE's inadequate human rights safeguards,
were confined to the body of the report. He assured us that
the body of the report addressed many of the issues that
occupy the Department's Country Report on Human Rights,
including torture, deaths in custody, and the Emergency Law.



3. (C) Hossam Badrawi, a reformist within the National
Democratic Party (NDP), said the report merited a "B plus."
He assured us that "we did not leave anything out." Ossama
Al-Ghazzali Harb, an NDP member who also works for the
Al-Ahram Center for Security and Political Studies, argued
that NCHR members had their reputations to uphold, and that
none of them would "sit still in the face of a wishy-washy
report." According to Harb, "the segments that
matter--Emergency Law, political rights, torture, prison
conditions, freedom of expression--are all very candid and
critical." Harb also noted that the GOE-dominated press
would likely "concentrate on the positive," and focus on the
elements of the report that showed the GOE in a favorable
light.



4. (C) Munir Fakhry Abdel Nour, a businessman and
opposition (Wafd) Member of Parliament said that the report
was deeply critical of the GOE, and he had been surprised by
initial press reports, in Al-Ahram and elsewhere, that said
that the report would show that the human rights situation in
Egypt was improving. Nour also observed that "many of us did
not read the report thoroughly." He explained that a
committee had prepared the draft, and then members had been
invited one week before the final review to examine the draft
at the NCHR offices. Draft copies were not circulated to the
members. Nour said that few members actually had read the
draft prior to the final review meeting. Nour, a prominent
Coptic Orthodox Christian, also touched on the issue of
religious freedom. Only after he completed the review
session, he said, had he suddenly realized that he couldn't
remember if the report addressed the issues of religious
minorities. "We did indeed receive tens of complaints on
problems surrounding church permits and renovations, but I
did not notice if this was included in the body of the report
or not." Comment: We find Nour's self-described lack of
attention to issues of religious freedom puzzling given that
he is widely seen by the NCHR's boosters as having an
informal responsibility within the NCHR for Coptic issues.
End comment.



5. (C) Finally, we also spoke with independent human rights
activist Bahey Eddin Hassan, of the Cairo Institute for Human
Rights Studies. Hassan was much gloomier than the others.
According to his information, the report was drafted by two
main authors. Hassan said that Deputy Minister of Justice
Sana Khalil drafted the sections of the report that dealt
with Egyptian constitutional and legislative matters
pertaining to human rights. Hassan said that the section of
the report covering specific human rights violations was
drafted by an unnamed researcher who works for the Arab
Organization for Human Rights, a pro-government NGO headed by
NCHR member Ambassador (ret'd) Mohamed Fayek. Hassan said
that his understanding was that NCHR Vice-President Dr. Kamal
Aboul Magd, a former minister of information, closely
controlled the drafting process and "at the end of the day
(he) took everything and cooked it."



6. (C) Hassan, who formerly headed the NCHR's Cultural
Rights Committee, noted that under his leadership, the
Committee had drafted a paper for inclusion in the annual
report addressing how Al-Azhar University discriminates
against non-Muslim Egyptians and supports confiscation of
religiously-objectionable publications through its Islamic
Research Council. Hassan said that although the Cultural
Rights Committee had unanimously recommended that this
information be included in the final draft, Vice President
Aboul Magd chose instead to shelve it without any discussion
or debate by the Council as a whole. Hassan noted that his
dismay at this episode had led him to decline to chair the
Cultural Rights Committee for a second term. He said that he
thinks many NCHR members are increasingly disappointed with
the Council and that he is reconsidering his association with
the organization.



7. (C) Comment: NCHR President Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the
former U.N. Secretary General, told Ambassador Welch in
December 2004 (reftel) that the NCHR's "credibility would
depend on what we say in our first annual report." The
contradictory opinions of our NCHR contacts suggest that we
will need to review the actual text before we can offer a
definitive analysis. Regardless of the nature of the
published report, however, we think that its release should
spark a useful Egyptian debate on the role of human rights in
a democratizing society, and may herald an important
development for the Arab world. End comment.


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GRAY