Classified by Ambassador Margaret Scobey for reason 1.4 (d).
1. (C) Summary: Ambassador made an introductor call on Prime Minister Nazif on April 29, accompanied by econ counselor (notetaker). The two discussed the need to continue an economic dialogue, as well as continued US support for democracy in Egypt, Egyptian political reform, US funding for civil companies, and Ayman Nour. The Ambassador informed the Prime Minister of the decision to move Egypt to the Special 301 Watch List, and off the Priority Watch List. They discussed the upcoming visit to Egypt of USTR Susan Schwab. Nazif reviewed Egypt's continuing economic reform efforts. On the political side, Nazif maintained that the US is in "breech" of the 2004 Welch-Aboul Gheit agreement on ESF funding for NGOs, and said that Ayman Nour would serve out his prison term. He underlined, however, the important strategic relationship between Egypt and the United States, observing that we have managed this relationship in a "fruitful and positive way" for thirty years. End Summary.
2. (C) In the Ambassador's April 29 introductory call on Prime Minister Nazif, he opened by underlining the important strategic relationship between Egypt and the United States, observing that the two countries have been able to manage this relationship in a "fruitful and positive way" for the past thirty years. He noted that although there are now some challenges, overall the relationship remains positive.
Economic issues: Special 301, Trade and Reform
3. (C) The Ambassador said the USG decision to move Egypt from the Special 301 priority watch list to the watch list reflects Egypt's progress IPR protection, and that we will continue to work with the Egyptian government in areas where there are still issues. The Prime Minister noted that Egyptian progress on IPR began with an umbrella agreement with the software companies, under which Egypt bought and installed legal software much more cheaply. Now, he said, the entire educational system and the government uses licensed software. He suggested this might be a model for the pharmaceutical industry.
4. (C) The Ambassador said that USTR Susan Schwab will attend the WEF and hopes to discuss a way forward on trade issues with Minister of Trade Rachid. The Ambassador hoped that the US and Egypt would be able to identify mutually agreed upon interim goals to work towards on trade, in the absence of FTA negotiations, although a MEFTA remained our overarching goal. Nazif agreed that a MEFTA is Egypt's longterm goal as well. He mentioned the possibility of restarting trade talks within the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) to keep the dialogue open, but also mentioned the importance of other channels of communication, including the ongoing strategic dialogue, and noted that he encourages his ministers to visit the US.
5. (C) Nazif said that his government continues to focus on economic reform including tax cuts, removing trade barriers, enacting customs reform and creating trading relationship. He said that reform efforts continue, including within the government, labor market, internal market regulation and in other areas, and observed that some of the changes needed are cultural. The prime minister cautioned that some reforms have had a negative impact on lower income groups, and that the GOE is putting together a social program to support them, but that this takes time. He also cited the economic challenge posed by increased food and energy prices.
Political reform in Egypt
6. (C) The Ambassador explained she would like to create a constructive dialogue in areas of bilateral disagreement, for example, democracy and human rights. She stressed that the President and the Secretary share the democracy agenda, ad did the US Congress. She predicted that these issues will remain important in any new administration. She noted that Egypt has made progress but that the US and Egypt have somehow lost the ability to talk about these very important issues and said it would be useful in discussions with Congress if we could point to an Egyptian plan on democracy.
7. (C) Nazif responded that Egypt does have a plan for political reform, citing Mubarak's 2005 campaign platform advocating constitutional changes, and the 2005 presidential election itself. He noted that constitutional changes have empowered opposition parties, although Egypt's centralized party system is transforming very slowly. The opposition parties still, he said, have a very small base of support and
have shown no real leadership. Nazif said the government tolerates freedom of expression, noting that opposition opinions, criticism of the government and political protest. In this regard, he said, Egypt compares favorably to anywhere in the region, as well as to "where we were five to ten years ago." Nazif also said the way President Bush had framed his comments about democracy in Sharm during his January visit was "excellent, very balanced, very much appreciated." Privately, he said, "we talk about everything, publicly is another matter." He had also read the Ambassador's congressional testimony, and that "there was nothing wrong with it," despite criticism in the Egyptian press. He emphasized, however, that "private, direct dialogue" was the best to way to discuss these issues.
Funding for Civil Companies
8. (C) The Ambassador previewed plans to raise direct USG funding to civil companies with Minister of International Cooperation Fayza Aboulnaga on May 4. She said that US and Egypt must come to terms with the US need to proceed with direct funding, and hoped we could resolve current differences. The Ambassador hoped to return to the 2004 agreement, which allowed the US to fund the civil companies. She underlined that under the agreement "nothing is secret" but that the funding is legal as long as we are funding legal entities. She emphasized that the Administration wants to meet its Congressional mandate for direct funding in a way that is respectful of the need for transparency and Egyptian sovereignty. Nazif said that the Egyptian government believes the 2004 agreement has been "breeched." The Ambassador responded that the US does not agree. Nazif said Egypt had agreed some ESF would fund NGOs working legally in Egypt. He asked why the US insists on funding specific entities that Egypt does not consider NGOs. The civil companies, he said, are not NGOs under Egyptian law. "We have tens of thousands of NGOs. Why do you insist on funding those few? And why do you fund specific persons?" (NOTE: These comments refer to Said Eddin Ibrahim and the Ibn Khaldoum Center.)
9. (C) The Ambassador replied that sometimes there is specific Congressional interest in certain NGOs and individuals and that if the registration process for NGOs were faster and more predictable, we might fund more, although we continue to see funding the civil companies as a legal option. "We are funding Egyptian groups that are trying to promote democracy and governance," she said. At this time, she noted, there is no "realistic ability"for many of these groups to register as NGOs. Nzif responded that "what we decide is an NGO is or prerogative. When we decide not to approve 1,2, 5 or 7 NGOs out of 10,000 we expect you to unerstand." He gave a hypothetical example of Egyt funding an organization linked to Al Qaeda in th U.S., observing that the US would object. In reponse, the Ambassador said that if there was anyspecific information that the civil companies th US is funding are linked in any way to terroris or criminal activity that "we would of course tke that very seriously," and hoped that the GOE wuld give us that information. Nazif explained tha the GOE concerns about these groups are linked o security. "You must also understand some of or needs. There are some working in a subversiveway." He observed that some of these groups are etting money from the US through other channels, and suggested that it was the ESF that "causes a dscomfort that we can do without."
10. (C) Fially, Nazif explained, Egypt is passing through a very difficult period and faces many challenges, citing the Muslim Brotherhood, and the outcome of the 2006 Palestinian elections. The Ambassador commented that the US has confidence in Egypt's ability to manage the political competition, and to make sure that responsible people will be allowed to enter the political space.
11. (C) Nazif complained that the American public and Congress do not see the progress on reform that has been made. The Ambassador agreed certain things have come to symbolize Egypt in the US, including the case of Ayman Nour. Nazif said the Ayman Nour case is a no-win situation, and no one in Egypt understands the American view. The Ambassador observed that the decision on Ayman Nour is Egypt's, but that we should all be aware of its impact on US opinion. Nazif said that "the way it is built up in the US is the opposite of the way it is built up here. If there is a pardon, it will be seen as something the US has insisted on. He is going to serve out his term," he said, and suggested we focus on positive developments in the democracy area instead. SCOBEY