2011-01-29 Who is Egypt’s new Vice President?

 

 

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced on Egyptian state television today that he has sworn in a new vice president, former Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman. US state cable07CAIRO1417 states that according to Article 82 of Egypt’s constitution, the vice president should assume presidential powers “if on account of any temporary obstacle the president is unable to carry out his duties.”

So who is the new vice president who, in the seemingly imminent departure of President Mubarak may begin ruling Egypt? Jane Mayer asks the question in her article today in the New Yorker, and answers it with information from her book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals“Since 1993 Suleiman has headed the feared Egyptian general intelligence service. In that capacity, he was the C.I.A.’s point man in Egypt for renditions—the covert program in which the C.I.A. snatched terror suspects from around the world and returned them to Egypt and elsewhere for interrogation, often under brutal circumstances.”

She also references Stephen Grey’s book Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program “beginning in the nineteen-nineties, Suleiman negotiated directly with top Agency officials. Every rendition was greenlighted at the highest levels of both the U.S. and Egyptian intelligence agencies. Edward S. Walker, Jr., a former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, described Suleiman as “very bright, very realistic,” adding that he was cognizant that there was a downside to “some of the negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on. But he was not squeamish, by the way.”

According to Mayer Technically, U.S. law required the C.I.A. to seek “assurances” from Egypt that rendered suspects wouldn’t face torture. But under Suleiman’s reign at the intelligence service, such assurances were considered close to worthless. As Michael Scheuer, a former C.I.A. officer who helped set up the practice of rendition, later testified before Congress, even if such “assurances” were written in indelible ink, “they weren’t worth a bucket of warm spit.”

“Suave, sophisticated, and fluent in English, he has served for years as the main conduit between the United States and Mubarak.” says Mayer. US state cable 09CAIRO746 describes Admiral Mullen’s April 21, 2009 meeting with Suleiman and cable 09CAIRO1349 describes a June 29, 2009 meeting between Suleiman and General Petraeus. From cable 05CAIRO5924 

In the context of the close and sustained cooperation between the USG and GOE on counterterrorism, Post believes that the written GOE assurances regarding the return of three Egyptians detained at Guantanamo (reftel) represent the firm commitment of the GOE to adhere to the requested principles. These assurances were passed directly from Egyptian General Intelligence Service (EGIS) Chief Soliman through liaison channels — the most effective communication path on this issue. General Soliman’s word is the GOE’s guarantee, and the GOE’s track record of cooperation on CT issues lends further support to this assessment.

Post has received written assurances from the Egyptian General Intelligence Service (EGIS) regarding the acceptance and humane treatment of three Egyptians currently detained in Guantanamo:

  • Abdul Rahman Mohammed AL-MARZOUQ, ISN US9EG-00369DP;
  • Allah Muhammad SALEEM, ISN US9EG-00071DP;
  • Sami Abdul Aziz Salim ALLAITHY, ISN US9EG-000287DP.

Post believes that these assurances represent a firm commitment by the GOE to handle the matter in accordance with our stated principles. We recommend that the interagency consider approving transfer now on the basis of these assurances. 

Post has established that the most effective conduit for addressing this issue is through Cairo Station – EGIS Liaison. The written assurances (reftel) were passed directly from EGIS Chief General Soliman through this channel. General Soliman’s stature and power in the Egyptian establishment, and his history of close cooperation with the USG on counterterrorism, corroborate the Egyptian intent take responsibility for the detainees in such a way that protects both U.S. and Egyptian security interests. In addition to the written assurances regarding the detainees treatment, EGIS has conveyed orally to Cairo station that all three will be taken into custody upon arrival in Egypt and will be investigated and prosecuted in accordance with Egyptian law.

We understand the need for specific language on this matter. However, the danger of seeking specificity beyond what we have already received in EGIS’ written assurances is that EGIS may decide to turn the case over to the MFA. MFA involvement will complicate the process and delay disposal of the cases. 

 

The Washington Post, in predicting Suleiman’s appointment yesterday, pointed out

In 2009, Foreign Policy magazine ranked Suleiman as the Middle East’s most powerful intelligence chief, ahead of Mossad chief Meir Dagan.

In an observation that may turn out to be ironic, the magazine wrote, “More than from any other single factor, Suleiman’s influence stems from his unswerving loyalty to Mubarak.”

 

Stephen Soldz has an article in OpEdNews

Stephen Grey, in Ghost Plane, his investigative work on the rendition program also points to Suleiman as central in the rendition program:

“To negotiate these assurances [that the Egyptians wouldn’t “torture” the prisoner delivered for torture] the CIA dealt principally in Egypt through Omar Suleiman, the chief of the Egyptian general intelligence service (EGIS) since 1993. It was he who arranged the meetings with the Egyptian interior ministry…. Suleiman, who understood English well, was an urbane and sophisticated man. Others told me that for years Suleiman was America’s chief interlocutor with the Egyptian regime — the main channel to President Hosni Mubarak himself, even on matters far removed from intelligence and security.”

Shortly after 9/11, Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib was captured by Pakistani security forces and, under US pressure, torture by Pakistanis. He was then rendered (with an Australian diplomats watching) by CIA operatives to Egypt, a not uncommon practice. In Egypt, Habib merited Suleiman’s personal attention. As related by Richard Neville, based on Habib’s memoir:

Habib was interrogated by the country’s Intelligence Director, General Omar Suleiman…. Suleiman took a personal interest in anyone suspected of links with Al Qaeda. As Habib had visited Afghanistan shortly before 9/11, he was under suspicion. Habib was repeatedly zapped with high-voltage electricity, immersed in water up to his nostrils, beaten, his fingers were broken and he was hung from metal hooks.

That treatment wasn’t enough for Suleiman, so:

To loosen Habib’s tongue, Suleiman ordered a guard to murder a gruesomely shackled Turkistan prisoner in front of Habib -” and he did, with a vicious karate kick.

After Suleiman’s men extracted Habib’s confession, he was transferred back to US custody, where he eventually was imprisoned at Guantanamo. His “confession” was then used as evidence in his Guantanamo trial.

 

From US state cable 07CAIRO1417

Omar Soliman

EGYPTIAN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF AND MUBARAK CONSIGLIERE, IN PAST YEARS SOLIMAN WAS OFTEN CITED AS LIKELY TO BE NAMED TO THE LONG-VACANT VICE-PRESIDENTIAL POST. IN THE PAST TWO YEARS, SOLIMAN HAS STEPPED OUT OF THE SHADOWS, AND ALLOWED HIMSELF TO BE PHOTOGRAPHED, AND HIS MEETINGS WITH FOREIGN LEADERS REPORTED. MANY OF OUR CONTACTS BELIEVE THAT SOLIMAN, BECAUSE OF HIS MILITARY BACKGROUND, WOULD AT THE LEAST HAVE TO FIGURE IN ANY SUCCESSION SCENARIO FOR GAMAL, POSSIBLY AS A TRANSITIONAL FIGURE. SOLIMAN HIMSELF ADAMANTLY DENIES ANY PERSONAL AMBITIONS, BUT HIS INTEREST AND DEDICATION TO NATIONAL SERVICE IS OBVIOUS. HIS LOYALTY TO MUBARAK SEEMS ROCK-SOLID. AT AGE 71, HE COULD BE ATTRACTIVE TO THE RULING APPARATUS AND THE PUBLIC AT LARGE AS A RELIABLE FIGURE UNLIKELY TO HARBOR AMBITIONS FOR ANOTHER MULTI-DECADE PRESIDENCY. A KEY UNANSWERED QUESTION IS HOW HE WOULD RESPOND TO A GAMAL PRESIDENCY ONCE MUBARAK IS DEAD. AN ALLEGED PERSONAL FRIEND OF SOLIMAN TELLS US THAT SOLIMAN “DETESTS” THE IDEA OF GAMAL AS PRESIDENT, AND THAT HE ALSO WAS “DEEPLY PERSONALLY HURT” BY MUBARAK, WHO PROMISED TO NAME HIM VICE-PRESIDENT SEVERAL YEARS AGO, BUT THEN RENEGED.

 

2011-01-29 Yemen: Day of Rage on February 3

On January 27 tens of thousands of people in Yemen took to the streets calling for an end to the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president. Today, Al Jazeera reports dozens of activists clashing with government supporters in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. They chanted “Ali, leave leave” and “Tunisia left, Egypt after it and Yemen in the coming future” outside the Egyptian embassy.

Tawakel Karman, who heads the Yemeni activist group Women Journalists Without Chains, and is also a member of the opposition Islamist party al-Islah, was arrested last week and charged with organizing unlicensed demonstrations without permission. She had been involved in organizing a protest last week of around 2,500 demonstrators who chanted “Oh, Ali, join your friend Ben Ali”, a message to the president of Yemen and in support of the departure of the president of Tunisia. Nearly half of Yemen’s population lives on less than $2 a day. There is poor access to proper sanitation, less than a tenth of the roads are paved, and tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes by conflict. The government is reported to be very corrupt.

Karman was released on January 24 with a commitment from her family that she will no longer offend public order and law. Today, after she said that a member of the security forces in civilian clothes tried to attack her with a dagger and a shoe, she stated, “We will continue until the fall of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime. We have the Southern Movement in the south, the (Shia) Huthi rebels in the north, and parliamentary opposition, all of which are calling for political change. But what’s most important now is the jasmine revolution.”

Karman called for Thursday, February 3 to be a “Day of rage” throughout Yemen. There have been almost daily protests in Yemen for the last two weeks, calling for the removal of Saleh from office. Parliament in Yemen is currently discussing a draft constitutional amendment which could allow Saleh to remain president for life.

In 2005, US state cable 05SANAA923 (only partially available) characterized the US relationship with Ali Abdallah Saleh.

Gentlemen, We’ve Got Him!

In a conference call with Ambassador and DCM, President Ali Abdallah Saleh informed us last night, Tuesday, April 12, that suspected terrorist Kanaan has been caught. Saleh began with, “You know this man Kanaan who has been threatening you and for whose sake you closed down your embassy? Well, we’ve caught him. In fact, we also arrested, two days ago, two of his top assistants.” Saleh went on to say that these arrests show the “seriousness and honesty” of his services and the political will at the top for full cooperation with “our friends the Americans.” You, on the other hand said Saleh, “don’t move on our requests.” Saleh reassured us that his cooperation and the cooperation of his “services” would continue no matter what.

Now, Where’s Our Stuff?

Saleh did not waste time for his usual quid-pro-quo tactics. “So, where’s my stuff? We have requested equipment and weapons for our CSF counter terrorism unit,” said Saleh. “We have suffered important and costly losses in Saada and we need your help. Please tell Washington that this is urgent.” “I respond to you immediately when you need something,” added Saleh, “and now, you must do the same for me.”

December 21, 2009

A cable from the end of 2009, 09SANAA2251 entitled ROYG LOOKS AHEAD FOLLOWING CT OPERATIONS, BUT PERHAPS NOT FAR ENOUGH, states that the Yemeni government “appears not overly concerned about unauthorized leaks regarding the U.S. role and negative media attention to civilian deaths.”

While the ROYG has touted the operation as a victory in terms of the number of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) members killed or captured, it hasn’t yet decided how, or even if, it should begin to modify its public messaging to address criticism over collateral damage, or the likelihood that the extent of U.S. involvement may become impossible to deny.

Saleh assured the US that he wants these operations against AQAP to continue “non-stop until we eradicate this disease.” … The Ambassador cautioned Alimi that the ROYG may need to nuance its position regarding U.S. involvement in the event more evidence surfaces, complicating its ability to adhere to the official line that ROYG forces conducted the operations independently.

The Governr of Abyan was given YR 20 million (approximatel USD 100,000) to disburse to the families of those killed or wounded in the strikes in Maajala, where the AQAP training camp was located. Alimi said that the civilians who died were largely nomadic, Bedouin families who lived in tents near the AQAP training camp and were assisting AQAP with logistical support. Alimi said they were poor people selling food and supplies to the terrorists, but were nonetheless acting in collusion with the terrorists and benefitting financially from AQAP’s presence in the area.

Given that local and international media will continue to look for evidence of a U.S. role in the December 17 strikes against AQAP, the ROYG must think seriously about its public posture and whether its strict adherence to assertions that the strikes were unilateral will undermine public support for legitimate and urgently needed CT operations, should evidence to the contrary surface. Thus far, the ROYG has deployed influential local leaders to the affected area in Abyan to explain the need for the strikes in an effort to quell potential unrest; however, it has not attempted to provide any context for the civilian casualties, which might help to counter overblown claims of ROYG disregard for the local population ) in this particular case, southerners.

December 28, 2009

On December 28 of 2009, US State cable 09SANAA2279 discusses President Saleh’s lack of support both within Yemen and within the circle of his closest advisers.

In the past month, President Saleh has told a number of his top advisors that continued direct Saudi involvement in the Houthi conflict will alleviate domestic political pressure on the ROYG to produce tangible gains against the Houthis, according to xxxxx with close personal ties to Saleh. Saleh also views continued Saudi involvement as the key to keeping the tap of Saudi budget support open (Saudi monetary support for ROYG military operations will be reported septel). The greater financial incentives attached to direct Saudi participation in the conflict mean Saleh now has an incentive to prolong the conflict rather than seek a mediated solution.

Like other Saleh watchers (REF C), xxxxx characterizes the multitude of threats facing Saleh as qualitatively different and more threatening to the regime’s stability than those during any other time in Yemen’s history. “Saleh is overwhelmed, exhausted by the war, and more and more intolerant of internal criticism. Saudi involvement comes at just the right time for him” xxxxx said. Largely unprecedented criticism of Saleh’s leadership within the rarified circle of Saleh’s closest advisors has increased in recent months, even including longtime Saleh loyalists such as Office of the Presidency aides xxxxx, according to xxxxx These names add to the growing chorus of Saleh loyalists that have shed their traditional aversion to disparaging the man they call “The Boss”.

Members of the Saudi Government’s Special Office for Yemen Affairs, a committee normally headed by Crown Prince Sultan, are privately skeptical of Saleh’s claims of Iranian involvement and of his desire to regionalize the Sa’ada conflict, according to xxxxx told EconOff on December 14 xxxxx that Saleh was providing false or exaggerated information on Iranian assistance to the Houthis in order to enlist direct Saudi involvement and regionalize the conflict. xxxxx said that xxxxx told him that “we know Saleh is lying about Iran, but there’s nothing we can do about it now.”

RIYADH COMMENT: We agree with xxxxx observation that Saudi support is enabling Saleh to weather increased domestic political pressure and continue his campaign against the Houthis. However, xxxxx assumption that King Abdullah’s “greater confidence” in Saleh is driving this support may be flawed. We have seen no evidence that the King has any particular regard for Saleh beyond exasperation that borders on disgust. Senior Saudi officials make no secret of their distaste for Saleh, but see him as the “devil they know.” Aware of his growing weakness, they view their support as essential to keeping Yemen’s problems contained. Further, contacts say Second Deputy PM and Minister of Interior Prince Nayif, widely believed to advocate a tougher approach to the Yemen problem, has been heavily involved in the Yemen file in Sultan’s absence. Some suggest that the border actions — while temporarily propping up Saleh — may be indicative of Saudi plans to take a harder line towards Yemen in the longer term.

2011-01-28 Cable: Qatar on the Israeli-Palestine talks, Egypt and Iran

US state cable 2010-02-24: 10DOHA71 outlines Senator Kerry’s meeting with Qatar’s Prime Minister, Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani (HBJ) on February 13, 2010. In the meeting, HBJ stresses that it is a mistake to exclude Hamas from Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, equates Egypt to a physician with one patient, and accuses Egypt of having a vested interest in dragging out the talks for as long as possible. He also warned against a US military action against Iran.

HBJ told Senator John Kerry February 13 that “everyone in the region” seems to have a separate plan for moving ahead on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute when only one plan was needed; a plan that both the Israelis and Palestinians would accept and finalize. HBJ underscored that it is a mistake to ignore Hamas in seeking a lasting agreement. Saying this does not mean that Qatar expresses a preference for Hamas, but the Palestinian Authority (PA) cannot sign off on an agreement on behalf of the Palestinians where open divisions exist.

Senator Kerry responded that we “are where we are.” He assessed that the Goldstone Report and dissatisfaction in Fatah’s ranks in the West Bank made it difficult for Abu Mazen to “give something to Israel” that would allow direct negotiations to begin between the parties. Add in Abu Mazen’s previous statements on the need for a full settlement freeze, and the ingredients for the Palestinian people to accept direct talks simply are not there.

Abu Mazen is out on a limb, responded HBJ. “He climbed a tree (drawing a line in the sand on settlements) and can’t get down.” HBJ noted that in conversations Qatar has held with Hamas’ leadership, it is clear that Hamas is ready to accept Israel’s right to exist. But the acceptance must come about gradually, not in one day. Senator Kerry said he had heard this elsewhere, but in his own conversations, he did not get the sense that Hamas was ready to accept Israel’s existence.

Qatar’s PM observed that the biggest obstacle on the Palestinian side to an eventual agreement with Israel is the reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah. HBJ maintained that it would have happened during the previous U.S. administration, but President Bush told Abu Mazen not to sign off on it. Reconciliation can happen, HBJ asserted, but only “if bigger countries in the region allow it.” The leaderships in Syria and Gaza consult each other, and no one leader in Hamas can take a decision alone, reported HBJ.

Chairman Kerry asked HBJ if Hamas is feeling political pressure from Gazans over their current living conditions. HBJ responded that anytime people do not have housing, schools or public utilities, their political leaders feel pressure.

According to HBJ, Egypt — the broker — has a vested interest in dragging out the talks for as long as possible. Egypt “has no end game; serving as broker of the talks is Egypt’s only business interest with the U.S.” HBJ likened the situation to a physician who has only one patient to treat in the hospital. If that is your only business, “the physician is going to keep the patient alive but in the hospital for as long as possible.” HBJ emphasized that Qatar, on the other hand, is interested only in bringing about peace in the region — and as quickly as possible.

HBJ noted that since its inception the Quartet has been anti-Hamas and aligned with the interests of Abu Mazen, Egypt and Jordan. These partners of the Quartet, observed HBJ, are the very partners who have not delivered a Palestinian-Israeli agreement.

Returning to his theme that “peace brokers” act in their own self-interest, HBJ observed that President Mubarak of Egypt is thinking about how his son can take his place and how to stave off the growing strength of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian government, said HBJ, has jailed 10,000 Muslim Brotherhood members without bringing court cases against them. The Egyptian “people blame America” now for their plight. The shift in mood on the ground is “mostly because of Mubarak and his close ties” to the United States. His only utility to the U.S. is brokering peace between Palestinians and Israelis, so he has no interest in taking himself out of the one game he has, underscored HBJ. “Tell your friends (in Egypt) they must help themselves.”

As for Qatar, “We want to help Abu Mazen and the Palestinians,” declared HBJ. The short-term needs of Palestinians in Gaza are acute, said HBJ. We need to broker a quick reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah and move forward quickly on rebuilding Gaza. Senator Kerry asserted that HBJ was preaching to the converted and told the PM he was “shocked by what I saw in Gaza.”

Continuing to illustrate how Egypt had not delivered for the U.S. on Palestinian issues, HBJ said Qatar was told in late 2008 that Israel and the U.S. needed the Egyptians to deal with the crisis in Gaza. Yet former Israeli PM Olmert later complained to Qatar that Egypt is a big country and not nimble; it could not move fast enough. Senator Kerry pointed out he was in Cairo at the time Qatar was calling for an Arab League Summit in December 2008/January 2009 and asked HBJ for his perspective on the rift between Qatar and Egypt at that time.

HBJ told Senator Kerry that Mubarak refused to come to Doha for a meeting of Arab leaders, preferring that the meeting take place in Riyadh. The request to move the meeting was relayed to Qatar by the Saudis, not the Egyptians. Saudi Arabia, as a big country like Egypt, has a vested interest in keeping Egypt afloat, said HBJ. The Saudis agreed to host the meeting in Riyadh not because they objected to traveling to Doha, but because the Egyptians did. “So we argued over the meeting location” while the Palestinians suffered, and we in Qatar “called a meeting and said whoever comes, comes.”

Qatar is worried, said HBJ, about Egypt and its people, who are increasingly impatient. Mubarak, continued HBJ, says Al Jazeera is the source of Egypt’s problems. This is an excuse. HBJ had told Mubarak “we would stop Al Jazeera for a year” if he agreed in that span of time to deliver a lasting settlement for the Palestinians. Mubarak said nothing in response, according to HBJ.

Asked his advice on bringing about an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, HBJ said President Clinton recognized before leaving office that Egypt was a problem. When President Clinton sought help at the end of his term in reaching a final deal, the Saudis and Egyptians did not encourage him, said HBJ. “They told him to do what he thinks right.” Culturally, said HBJ, that is the way Arabs say “you are on your own.” And President Clinton was, said HBJ.

Now we are at a stage, said HBJ, where Egypt does not want Arab League involvement in brokering a reconciliation agreement among the Palestinians unless the talks bog down. HBJ said he had told Abbas that climbing down from his tree on no settlement activity so that talks can go forward will require Arab support. But the Egyptians won’t allow it.

Senator Kerry noted that Special Envoy Mitchell had made a lot of requests of Arabs but with little success. Leaving Qatar aside, the Chairman asked HBJ for proposed next steps. HBJ said he trusts the Saudis, but because they talk openly to Egypt and do not want to create more problems for Egypt than the Egyptian government already has, it is essential to bring in the small countries and start there.

HBJ suggested one or two GCC members, Morocco (although the King there is hesitant) and Syria as the core membership of an Arab League committee to address Palestinian-Israeli concerns. HBJ told Senator Kerry the inclusion of Syria might surprise him, but having Syria play a role would create jealousy among the Arabs. Some jealously and rivalry is just what the U.S. needs, opined HBJ, to get the process moving.

Iran, Lebanon and Iraq

HBJ said Iran’s president views the U.S. as a country that is overstretched and in difficulty as a result of too many commitments. Iraq, Afghanistan, and the U.S. economy are the three main problems President Ahmadinejad sees. HBJ observed that a Western attack against Iran for Ahmadinejad would be good politics, because it would allow him to take out his opposition using the war as a pretext. Senator Kerry asked clarification of whether Ahmadinejad had said these things, or if HBJ inferred them from conversation.

Qatar’s PM said Ahmadinejad had told him, “We beat the Americans in Iraq; the final battle will be in Iran.”

HBJ said putting economic pressure on Iran is the best way to get the leadership to rethink its quest for nuclear weapons. To be successful, he told Senator Kerry, Russia would definitely have to be on board, as would the Central Asian countries bordering Iran that provide food and supplies.

Asked his perception of the state of play with the opposition, HBJ said the U.S. had done a good job of standing back and not becoming the symbol of the opposition. Cracks in the regime are appearing. It is highly significant that many demonstrators ignored Khamenei when he called on them to stop their protests. The four key pillars of Iranian power — the court, oil sector, imams, and Revolutionary Guards — all must stick with him, stressed HBJ. There are cracks in the system, but the downfall of the regime may not be in the cards.

Asked what the sanctions should target, HBJ said the money that Iran derives from oil. Depriving Tehran of this revenue would force the regime to negotiate.

Senator Kerry observed that Ahmadinejad was making it easier by his actions. There is wide consensus in the Executive and Legislative branches of Washington to press ahead. Senator Kerry warned that Ahmadinejad “should not equate Afghanistan and Iraq with what he faces.”

HBJ encouraged Chairman Kerry to bear in mind that Iran is clever and makes its opponents dizzy in the quest for deals. They will keep you working on a deal and then start from scratch with a new interlocutor. HBJ stressed that Iran will make no deal. Iran wants nuclear weapons, and HBJ said he would not be surprised to see Iran test one to demonstrate to the world its achievement.

On Lebanon, Senator Kerry asked if Iran and Hizballah are ratcheting up their weapons stockpiles as part of Iran’s war against Israel. HBJ affirmed that is the case.

On Iraq, HBJ told Senator Kerry that Prime Minister Al-Maliki wants a Shia state, even though the Sunnis (when you count Kurds and non-Kurds) have the majority.

2011-01-28 Cable: Egypt displeased with number and tone of U.S. human rights recommendations

US State cable 2010-02-25 10CAIRO253 records that Government of Egypt officials, on February 24, expressed concern over the U.S. recommendations at the February 17 UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Egypt’s human rights record.

Presidential advisor Soliman Awad said the U.S. should focus on principles regarding religious freedom, not conversions and proselytizing which “makes Egyptians suspicious”. MFA Deputy Director for Human Rights Omar Shalaby said 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.”

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

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.

Reaction from Human Rights Groups

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).

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 recommendations.

Egyptian Media Coverage

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 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.”

2011-01-28 Cable: Egypt action against poet, bloggers, novelist and journalists

US State cable 2009-07-28 09CAIRO1447 describes action taken by the Egyptian government against an amateur poet, bloggers, a novelist and journalists.

An amateur poet

A local government clerk arrested, convicted and jailed for writing unpublished poetry allegedly insulting to President Mubarak, illustrates how proactive security forces and courts can successfully move against a civilian defended by incompetent lawyers. In late June, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) issued a statement that police arrested XXXXXXXXXXXXXX in April for defaming Mubarak in a poem, and a local court subsequently sentenced him to three years in prison. According to the statement, the court set bail at LE 100,000 (15,000 USD) pending appeal, and since XXXXXXXXXXXX could not afford that sum, he remained in jail. Skilled Cairo-based lawyers from ANHRI appealed the case, and a Minya appeals court acquitted XXXXXXXXXXX July 8; he was released July 20. XXXXXXXXXXXX might still be in jail if his original defense lawyers had not sought help.

XXXXXXXXXXXXX told us he was not aware of the case until June when lawyers from Minya contacted him to help with the appeal. XXXXXXXXXXXXX attributed the conviction in part to the poor skills of the defense lawyers. The case remained virtually unknown until the days leading up to the July 18 appeal verdict when the local and international press began reporting on it. Until mid-July, even our contacts specializing in freedom of expression were unaware of the case. Following XXXXXXXXXXXX’s release from prison, XXXXXXXXX appeared on Egyptian satellite television and said XXXXXXXXXXXX would not write any more poetry critical of the government. XXXXXXXXXXX also criticized lawyers from Minya for not defending him aggressively out of fear of the GOE’s response.

Bloggers

In a blogging environment often critical of the government, the GOE has selectively moved against certain bloggers. Most recently, the GOE arrested three young, Muslim Brotherhood (MB)-affiliated bloggers. XXXXXXXXXXXXX confirmed for us July 27 that State Security Investigative Services (SSIS) arrested bloggers XXXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXXXX at Cairo International Airport following their return from a conference in XXXXXXXXXXX. XXXXXXXXXXXX also confirmed that SSIS arrested a third blogger, XXXXXXXXXXXXXX, at his home on XXXXXXXXXXX, and that all three bloggers remained in detention. The MB website reported XXXXXXXXXXX that the GOE released XXXXXXXXXXXXX that day. The three bloggers have criticized trials of MB members in military courts and have voiced support for MB detainees. Our contacts have asserted that the GOE fears young, tech-savvy MB-affiliated bloggers because of their ability to generate mass support for the Brotherhood and organize rallies and other events via the internet. Contacts attributed the arrest and torture of young MB-blogger XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX in XXXXXXXXXXXX(refs D, E) to these factors. Police released XXXXXXXXXXXXX in XXXXXXXXXXXX (ref D).

Prominent blogger XXXXXXXXXXXX ran afoul of the GOE by publicly criticizing the regime in late June at a conference in XXXXXXXXXXXXX (ref B). XXXXXXXXXXXXXX, who was held at XXXXXXXXXXXX International Airport XXXXXXXXXX for 13 hours upon his return, told us XXXXXXXXXXXXX that police have still not returned his laptop. Hafez Abu Seada, Secretary-General of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights which is representing XXXXXXXXXXXX, told us July 22 that the police have not responded to his organization’s inquiries beyond saying that they are holding the laptop to search for “intellectual property violations.” XXXXXXXXXXXXX had told us that NDP members attending the same conference in XXXXXXXXXXXXX reported his critical comments to the GOE.

The GOE is using the Emergency Law to reject court orders for the release of blogger XXXXXXXXXXXXXX whom SSIS has kept in jail since XXXXXXXXXXXXXX for allegedly insulting both Islam and Christianity (ref C). XXXXXXXXXXXXX’s lawyer XXXXXXXXXXX told us that the Interior Ministry rejected a XXXXXXXXXXXXX court order to release XXXXXXXXXXXXX, and since SSIS made the arrest under the Emergency Law, neither the courts nor attorneys have any recourse. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX commented that this is the fifth time the MOI has refused to follow court decisions ordering XXXXXXXXXXXXX’s release.

A novelist and Journalists

The GOE and NDP operatives have stepped up their efforts to file lawsuits against political opponents. Human Rights attorney XXXXXXXXXXXXX told us in late June that he is defending the leading independent newspaper “Al-Masry Al-Youm” against more than 70 defamation suits, most of which have been filed by NDP loyalists. XXXXXXXXXXXXX is also defending XXXXXXXXXXXXX author of XXXXXXXXXXXXX against a government suit alleging that the work is profane. XXXXXXXXXXXXX said the MOI filed the profanity suit as a pretext to punish the author for the novel’s criticism of the NDP and of MOI heavy-handed police tactics against demonstrators. The profanity suit focuses on one relatively explicit sex scene and the use of expletives. XXXXXXXXXXXXX said such content is common in books and magazines, and almost never incurs suits. The trial is currently adjourned until the fall.

EOHR Secretary-General Hafez Abu Seada told us in early July that he is defending XXXXXXXXXXXXX, a journalist from the weekly newspaper XXXXXXXXXXXXX whom he said the Interior Ministry has targeted for writing a series of articles critical of the minister and other senior MOI officials. Abu Seada said an Interior Ministry general confronted XXXXXXXXXXXXX on the street as a pretext for filing charges against him for allegedly “assaulting” an officer. The Arab Network for Human Rights Information issued a statement July 13 criticizing the police for breaking into XXXXXXXXXXXXX’s home six times between July 10 and 11.

In mid-July, police arrested Yasser Barakat, editor-in-chief of the independent paper “Al-Moagaz,” to implement a June 24 court decision convicting him of defaming independent MP and SSIS confidante Mustafa Bakry. In the first instance in recent memory of a journalist jailed for defamation, Barakat spent 5 days in jail before his July 11 release pending appeal, following lobbying by the Press Syndicate (ref A). Contacts have told us that SSIS was able to provide political cover to support Bakry in his long-running personal feud against Barakat.

2011-01-28 Cable: Egypt’s Emergency Law

US State cable 2010-01-12 10CAIRO64 from one year ago, discusses the use of the State of Emergency, in effect in Egypt almost continuously since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

The Emergency Law

Article 3 of the Emergency Law allows the president to order “placing restrictions on personal freedom of assembly, movement, residence, traffic in specific areas at specific times,” and “the arrest of suspects or individuals threatening public security and order,” and arrests and searches without implementation of the law of criminal procedures…” In practice, the Interior Ministry carries out “the order” of the President either orally or in writing.

Article 3 also authorizes surveillance of personal messages and confiscation of publications.

Article 3 of the law stipulates that detainees can appeal an arrest order after six months in a state security court, and that the court’s decision is subject to approval by the president. In practice, after 30 days in prison,detainees can demand court hearings to challenge detention orders. Detainees can re-submit demands for hearings every 30 days; however, a judge can uphold a detention order indefinitely. The Emergency Law does not mandate a maximum detention period, and therefore allows the government, subject to the approval of a State Security court and the president, to detain individuals indefinitely without charge.

Article 7 of the law creates state security courts. Three civilian judges preside over the courts, two of whom may be replaced by military judges appointed by the president. The law also establishes state security prosecutors who review cases and refer them to the state security courts. Per article 7, judges’ verdicts in state security courts are final; there is no appeal process. Article 6 also stipulates that all state security court verdicts are subject to the review of the president, and Article 14 allows the president to modify sentences handed down by state security court judges.

The Emergency Law gives the president power to place “restrictions on personal freedom of assembly.” Separately, in the penal code, law 10 of 1914 criminalizes the “assembly of five or more people in a gathering that could threaten public order or security.” The law of meetings and demonstrations, law 14 of 1923 requires citizens to notify police prior to holding a gathering, and allows police to prevent a gathering from taking place and to dissolve a gathering once it is convened.

Use of the Emergency Law

During the 1990’s when Islamist terror organizations such as The Islamic Group and Al-Jihad carried out a series of attacks, the government arrested and detained thousands of Islamists under the Emergency Law. Contacts estimate that about 4,000 to 5,000 of these detainees remain in prison. Under the Emergency Law, security forces detained groups of Bedouin in the Sinai in connection with investigations into terror attacks there in 2004, 2005 and in April 2006.

In late 2008, the government used the Emergency Law to arrest 26 members of a Hizballah cell, 18 of whom are Egyptian. The cell was allegedly working to target U.S. and Israeli ships transiting the Suez Canal. The case is now before a state security court. In July 2009, the government used the Emergency Law to arrest and detain a group of 25 Egyptians and one Palestinian. The group allegedly aided Hamas, assisted in the February 2009 bombing at the Khan Al-Khalili market in Cairo, and robbed a Cairo jewelry store owned by Copts. According to press reports, on January 4 a state security prosecutor transferred the case to a state security emergency court.

The government has also used the Emergency Law in cases not related to terrorism. The GOE jailed blogger Hany Nazir under the Emergency Law in October 2008 following posts deemed offensive to Christianity and Islam. The GOE has also imprisoned activist and blogger Musad Abu Fagr since December 2007 under the Emergency Law following posts about difficulties faced by Sinai Bedouin. In 2008, the government arrested a blogger from the heterodox Islamic Quranic sect under the Emergency Law, and detained him for approximately 90 days.

In recent years, the government has used the Emergency Law to arrest large numbers of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) members without charge in the run-up to the 2005 parliamentary elections, the 2008 local council elections and the 2010 parliamentary elections. The government released most of the detainees after holding them from periods ranging from a few days to several months.

The government used the Emergency Law to arrest and prosecute 49 individuals in connection to clashes that broke out between workers and police during an April 2008 labor strike in the Delta town of Mahalla. In December 2008, a state security court convicted 22 people on charges of assaulting police officers, robbery, and possession of unlicensed weapons. In 2004, a state security court convicted 26 men linked to the banned Islamic Liberation Party for belonging to a banned organization. Several defendants alleged the government tortured them to obtain confessions.

2011-01-28 Cable: Mubarak discusses Iran and a “split” within Arab ranks

US State cable 2009-02-23: 09CAIRO326 describes a February 17, 2009 meeting between US Senator Joseph Lieberman and Egyptian President Gamal Mubarak.

Gamal criticizes the Israeli government’s decision not to move forward on the Gaza ceasefire without the release of Corporal Shalit. “The various Palestinian factions are due to begin reconciliation talks in Cairo “in about 10 days” and this development will make those discussions more difficult. It makes Egypt look bad, and strengthens Hamas.”

Gamal discusses a split within Arab ranks between “moderates” (Egypt and Saudi Arabia) and “radicals” (Syria and Qatar). He is of the opinion that Iran has skillfully exploited the lack of movement towards peace. The best way to thwart Iranian ambitions in the region, according to Gamal, is to reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and create a unified
Palestinian government. “The Palestinians need elections, both residential and parliamentary.”

Lieberman asks if Gamal thought the US should re-engage with Iran. “As long as Ahmedinejad is there, I am skeptical,” Gamal responded. The one thing that is clear, Gamal stressed, is that by removing Saddam, the U.S. opened the door for Iran to flex its muscles and spread its influence throughout the region. “Like it or not, Saddam was a stumbling block to Iranian aspirations. His fall led directly to an increase in Iranian influence on the region.” Now, it is all the more important not to send a message of weakness to the Iranians, Gamal said, “neither from the U.S., nor from the moderates in the region.” We cannot “concede to their policy of aggression.”

There are many in the region, Gamal explained, who believe that the U.S. was weakened by its actions in Iraq, and that Iran was strengthened. Furthermore, there is a perception that the U.S. has been hurt by the economic crisis …(and) will deal with problems in the region in a “less confrontational” fashion … Lieberman said that the U.S. will nonetheless engage in an even more aggressive Middle East foreign policy than previously, as evidenced by President Obama’s choice of Secretary Clinton and Special Envoy Mitchell.

Senator Lieberman then asked Gamal for his assessment of Qatari behavior. They are coordinating closely with Syria and Iran, Gamal said, “in an orchestrated attack on Egypt and other moderate Arab states.” Qatar has enabled Hamas to hamper every effort we have made to cement a ceasefire in Gaza. For some reason, Qatar seems to want to play the role of spoiler.

Gamal said that while Egypt has so far escaped the worst effects of the crisis, “we are bound to feel the brunt of it eventually.” and advised that the US economy needed “a shock”. “You need to inject even more money into the system than you have, and you need to get as much of the bad debt as possible out of it; “you must remove the toxic assets from the books”.