US embassy cable - 05CAIRO761

EGYPT: UPDATE ON THE ARREST OF OPPOSITION LEADER AYMAN NOUR

Identifier: 05CAIRO761
Wikileaks: View 05CAIRO761 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Cairo
Created: 2005-02-01 15:19:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PHUM PGOV PREL KDEM PGOV PREL KDEM PGOV PREL KDEM PGOV PREL KDEM EG EGPHUM EGPHUM EGPHUM
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 CAIRO 000761 
 
SIPDIS 
 
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. 
 
NSC STAFF FOR ABRAMS/POUNDS 
 
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). 
 
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Summary 
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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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TAGS: PHUM, PGOV, PREL, KDEM, EG 
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. 
 
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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." 
 
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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. 
 
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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 

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