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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
05CAIRO761
2005-02-01 15:19:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Cairo
Cable title:  

EGYPT: UPDATE ON THE ARREST OF OPPOSITION LEADER

Tags:   PHUM  PGOV  PREL  KDEM  EG 
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 CAIRO 000761 

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C O R R E C T E D C O P Y -- RENUMBERING OF PARAGRAPHS --
TAKE FOR FIRST TIME ACTION/INFO. PLEASE DESTROY ALL OTHERS.
SORRY FOR INCONVENIENCE.

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/01/2015
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREL KDEM PGOV PREL KDEM PGOV PREL KDEM PGOV PREL KDEM EG EGPHUM EGPHUM EGPHUM
SUBJECT: EGYPT: UPDATE ON THE ARREST OF OPPOSITION LEADER
AYMAN NOUR

REF: A. CAIRO 713


B. CAIRO 662

Classified by Charge Gordon Gray for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

-------
Summary
-------



1. (C) The Embassy has raised strong USG concerns about the
arrest and detention of opposition party leader Ayman Nour
(reftels) with a variety of GOE contacts at both senior and
working levels. Reactions have ranged from mute to mildly
defensive. The Embassy has also been working with Chiefs of
Mission and counterpart political officers of western
embassies, urging them to join the U.S. in raising strong
concerns about the negative signal about democracy the GOE is
sending through Nour's arrest. On the public diplomacy
front, the Embassy has posted A/S Boucher's remarks at the
January 31 press briefing on its website and is actively
directing journalists and other contacts to the excerpt.



2. (C) A key figure in Nour's Ghad party told us he found the
arrest and detention deeply demoralizing, while Ghad Party
Secretary-General Mona Makram Ebeid was quoted in the press

SIPDIS
"opposing foreign intervention" in the case. A senior
judicial contact was strongly critical of the GOE's handling
of the case, which, he asserted, was riddled with irregular
and extraordinary legal procedures. At least two Egyptian
NGOs have condemned the arrest, with one prominent human
rights group publicly accusing the GOE of torturing Nour.
End summary.



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


Embassy Raising Concerns with the GOE


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





3. (C) Hours after news of Nour's January 29 arrest broke,
the Ambassador expressed strong concerns about the
development with Sami Saad Zaghloul, Chef de Cabinet for
Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif. The following morning, on
January 30, poloff took advantage of a previously scheduled
meeting with the Assistant Minister of Justice to express
concerns and warn that the Nour case had the potential to
become an irritant in the bilateral relationship (ref B).



4. (C) On February 1, the Charge registered USG concerns
about Nour's detention with Presidential spokesman (and de
facto national security advisor) Soliman Awad on February 1.
Awad tersely replied that he had seen a transcript of Richard
Boucher's comments on January 31 and had nothing further to
say, at which point he ended the conversation.



5. (C) Also on February 1, ECPO Counselor raised the arrest
with Karim Haggag, top aide to presidential son and NDP
Policies Committee Chair Gamal Mubarak. Haggag cautioned the
USG to not jump to conclusions before all the facts of the
case are known. He argued that forgery of official documents
is a serious accusation and must be investigated thoroughly.
When ECPO Counselor questioned the use of the state security
apparatus to address accusations of criminal (rather than

terrorist) behavior, Haggag replied that, if the charges are
found to be legitimate, the case will be pursued through the
criminal justice system, not the state security system. At
the close of the conversation, Haggag conceded that he did
not rule out "a political motivation" for the arrest while
still insisting that there is substance to the forgery
charges. He acknowledged that it was important for the GOE
to approach the case transparently and resolve the
accusations quickly.



6. (C) Comment: Haggag, who previously served at Egypt's
Embassy in Washington, falls solidly within the reformist
camp. Our impression was that Haggag was uncomfortable
addressing the topic and fell back on the party line,
admitting to possible political motivations for the arrest
only obliquely and after strongly defending the merits of the
case. Haggag's conviction that there is something to the
forgery accusations was undermined by his ignorance of some
details, such as the number of signatures required for the
political party's registration and the number that Nour is
accused of having forged. End comment.



7. (C) ECPO Counselor (also on February 1) followed up on the
Ambassador's earlier conversation with Dr. Sami Saad
Zaghloul, Secretary General of the Cabinet. Zaghloul took
our points on board but had little substantive reaction. He
said that credible accusations of forgery had been made and
that the People's Assembly had little choice but to waive
immunity and the justice system had little choice but to
investigate and, if appropriate, press charges.
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SUBJECT: EGYPT: UPDATE ON THE ARREST OF OPPOSITION LEADER
AYMAN NOUR




8. (C) Also on Feburary 1, Poloff contacted Ehab Gamaleddin,
Assistant Foreign Minister for Human Rights Affairs, Col.
Hatem Fathy, an aide to the Minister of the Interior (MOI),
and Dr. Iskandar Ghattas, Assistant Minister of Justice, to
register the USG's strong concerns about Ayman Nour's arrest
and detention. Gameleddin responded that Nour's case was a
legal matter - "we don't interfere with the courts," he
stated. Poloff told Gamaleddin that Washington saw the issue
as one involving human rights, political freedom, and Egypt's
commitment to democracy.



9. (C) The MOI's Col. Fathy advised poloff that he had
already seen A/S Boucher's remarks. Fathy sought
clarification on poloff's remark that the USG saw Nour's
arrest as a step backward: "In terms of our relationship, or
in terms of the process of political reform?" he asked.
Poloff said the arrest was a step backward especially in
terms of political reform, but underscored that this issue
was intertwined with the quality of our overall bilateral
relationship. Fathy asserted that Egypt's police and
security apparatus was not driving policy in Nour's case.
Rather, Fathy stated, Egyptian police were merely enforcing
arrest warrants and judicial orders. Fathy promised to pass
on U.S. concerns as relayed by poloff to colleagues in the
MOI. (Comment: We believe this message will reach the
Minister, General Habib al-Adly. End comment.)



10. (C) Assistant Minister of Justice Ghattas (protect), with
whom we had raised the case on January 30, told poloff "since
this is a case with political dimensions you should raise it
with the Foreign Ministry."



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


Discussions with Like-minded Diplomats


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





11. (C) The Charge also raised the Nour case with the UK
Ambassador (as president of the G-8) and the Dutch Charge (in
separate discussions) on February 1. The UK Ambassador
immediately agreed to put the issue on the agenda of the
previously-scheduled G-8 meeting he is hosting on February 6.
The Dutch Charge said that the EU DCMs in Cairo were
recommending a demarche to the MFA by the EU Troika to voice
concern about the detention and to note the inconsistency
with recent positive statements and steps regarding political
reform. He expected that (after delivering the demarche) the
EU would issue a press statement in Cairo, The Hague,
Luxembourg, or some combination thereof. The Dutch Charge
noted that this proposed course of action (as well as the
statement) would need to be cleared by all 25 members of the
EU.



12. (C) The British Embassy hosted on January 31 a meeting of
"the like-minded group" which includes political officers
from G-8 states plus Australia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the
Netherlands, and the EU. Poloff affirmed that the U.S. was
very concerned about Nour's case, which sends a terrible
signal about Egypt's commitment to democracy, and urged
colleagues to register their countries' strong concerns with
their GOE contacts. Most of the diplomats indicated they
would be seeking guidance from their respective capitals, but
poloff urged that they call their contacts to flag the case
informally, even before they receive official instructions.



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


Public Diplomacy


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





12. (SBU) We have posted A/S Boucher's comments prominently
on our internet web-page and are actively directing
journalists and other contacts to read it. Both Egyptian and
western journalists, including reporters from Reuters and
Newsweek, have been inquiring with us about the case.



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


Reactions from The Ghad Party


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





13. (C) Hisham Kassem (protect), publisher of the liberal
daily al-Masry al-Yom and Assistant Secretary-General of
Nour's Ghad Party, described Nour's arrest as a "devastating
blow" to party members and others aspiring to a democratic
future to Egypt. "This has made me, for the first time in
years, consider leaving Egypt," he stated. On the motives
behind Nour's arrest, Kassem had no doubt that they were
political, but nonetheless conceded the arrest had taken him
by surprise and left him in shock. Kassem theorized that
Nour "may have crossed the red line" in his reaction to the
invitation to the January 31 dialogue between the ruling
National Democratic Party (NDP) and opposition parties
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SUBJECT: EGYPT: UPDATE ON THE ARREST OF OPPOSITION LEADER
AYMAN NOUR

(reported septel), when he suggested that since all other
parties would be represented by their heads, the NDP's chair
should be filled by President Mubarak, so that all party
leaders could speak to each other "as equals." Kassem added
that he thought President Mubarak might be afraid of losing
control in a democratization scenario and becoming a
"Pinochet figure," facing calls for "accountability for 25
years of mismanagement and torture." Kassem added that he
was heartened by foreign expressions of support so far,
"including an E-mail from (NSC Senior Director) Elliott
Abrams."



14. (C) In Ayman Nour's absence, Ghad Party Secretary-General
Mona Makram Ebeid represented the party at the January 31
dialogue. Ebeid announced in advance that she would not be
raising Nour's arrest at the meeting, but would rather stick
to the agreed upon agenda. Ebeid was quoted in January 31
report by MENA, Egypt's official news agency, as opposing
foreign intervention in Nour's case. Ebeid told a Dutch
diplomat that the Ghad party would prefer no foreign
intervention on Nour's behalf, but added that if the EU was
going to make a statement, she would be unable to stop it.
The Dutch diplomat told poloff he read this as code language
welcoming foreign expressions of concern, even though she
needs plausible deniability for public consumption.



15. (C) Hisham Kassem told us that "probably according to the
GOE's plan" there are already deep divisions emerging within
the Ghad party leadership over how to handle the crisis, and
implied that he differed with Mona Makram Ebeid's approach.
Similarly, a brief January 31 exchange with Nour's wife
Gamila Ismail (who also holds a position in the Ghad Party)
left poloff with the impression that she was uncomfortable
with Ebeid's public guidance that foreigners should keep
their distance from the case.



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


Judicial/Legal Irregularities


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





16. (C) Poloff spoke on February 1 with a judicial contact, a
senior judge at the Cairo Higher Court of Appeals. The judge
was extremely critical of the GOE's handling of the case,
saying it violated legal norms and standard procedures.
First he noted the speed with which the Government moved,
from stripping Nour of immunity on a Friday, to arresting him
on Saturday, to issuing a 45-day detention order on Monday,
was all out of the ordinary. Second, the judge noted, there
have been numerous other instances in which members of
parliament have been accused of crimes and subject to
investigation without immediately stripping them of
parliamentary immunity. Third, the judge noted, had he been
presiding at the arraignment, he would have granted Nour
bail, as, particularly given his high public profile, he
poses little flight risk. Detaining him is purely punitive,
he opined.



17. (C) Ministry of Justice contacts advise us that although
a State Security Prosecutor is presiding over Nour's case, he
is actually being referred to the regular court system
(rather than an extraordinary court convened under the
emergency law). In this case, our contacts tell us, the State
Security Prosecutor "has been given special
jurisdiction...because they have experience handling
politically sensitive cases...and can make appropriate
adjustments."



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


NGOs Cry Foul


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





18. (C) At least two Egyptian human rights NGOs have issued
statements publicly condemning the GOE's arrest of Nour. On
January 31, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR)
issued a press release entitled "EOHR criticizes the torture
of Ayman Nour and demands his immediate release." In the
statement, EOHR alleges that Nour was roughed up at the time
of his arrest, thrown to the ground, hit in the face and
punched repeatedly in the back. At the police station, the
statement contends, Nour was shackled to a door frame and
forced to bend for an extended period. EOHR also noted and
condemned the arrest of Nour's law partner Ayman Barakat, who
is reportedly facing the same charges. On January 30, the
Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary issued a
brief statement condemning the "cruel and humiliating
treatment" Nour had suffered at the hands of police.



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


Comment


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



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SUBJECT: EGYPT: UPDATE ON THE ARREST OF OPPOSITION LEADER
AYMAN NOUR



19. (C) We expect a nationalist backlash and accusations of
"interference in Egypt's internal affairs" to begin tomorrow,
after Cairo journalists have had time to absorb and react to
A/S Boucher's January 31 responses at the noon press
briefing. End comment.

Visit Embassy Cairo's Classified Website:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/cairo

You can also access this site through the
State Department's Classified SIPRNET website.
GRAY