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Secretary Clinton: Interview With Bob Schieffer of CBS’s Face The Nation

QUESTION: We’re just off the line with Liz Palmer, our person in Cairo, and during her report, F-16s, Egyptian air force warplanes, apparently were flying low over the demonstrators in the main part of Cairo. Do you know what this is about?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Bob, I don’t, and let me repeat again what President Obama and I have been saying, and that is to urge the Egyptian security forces to show restraint, to not respond in any way through violence or intimidation. That falls upon the peaceful protestors who are demanding that their grievances be heard. And obviously, our reports up until now have been that the Egyptian army had taken up positions, that they were showing such restraint. And we strongly urge that that continue.

What the people who are in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in Egypt are protesting for is the right to participate in their government, to have economic opportunity, for their human rights to be respected. We are very clearly asking both in public and private that the Egyptian authorities respond to that, that they start a process of national dialogue that will lead to a transition to such democracy, and what President Mubarak himself said the other day – that they would begin to take concrete steps for democratic and economic reform – we expect to see happen.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, do you think those things are possible if President Mubarak stays in office, or is he eventually going to have to leave?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m not going to speculate, Bob. What we are focused on now is a transition that will meet the needs of the Egyptian people and that will truly establish democracy, not just for one election and then no more elections after that, or not for radicals, extremists, violent elements to take over. We want to see the – what really was at the core of the protests, which were people saying, “Hey, we deserve a better life. We deserve more opportunity to be respected and responded to.” And that is what we’ve been conveying and that’s what we will continue to make very clear, and we stand ready to assist.

QUESTION: Do you – are you concerned that if President Mubarak does go, it may give an opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been the opposition to his government for so many years, could somehow come to power? I think most people agree they were not the start of this or the cause of these demonstrations. But where do you see – what role do you see them playing if Mr. – President Mubarak should go?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, I’m not speculating about who goes or who stays. And I’m not prepared to comment on what kind of democratic process the Egyptian people can construct for themselves. But we obviously want to see people who are truly committed to democracy, not to imposing any ideology on Egyptians. And therefore, we would like to encourage that people who have been the voice of protest and been the voice of civil society be the ones at the table trying to design what would be an orderly transition to meet the democratic and economic needs of the people.

Bob, we’re all very conscious of the fact that Egypt is an incredibly important country, a large country with great influence in the region and meaning for the Arab world. And we want to see the outcome of what started as peaceful protests legitimately demanding redress for grievances to result in a true democracy. Not a phony one like we saw with Iranian elections, not to see a small group that doesn’t represent the full diversity of Egyptian society take over and try to impose their own religious or ideological beliefs. We want to see the full diversity and dynamism of Egyptian society represented.

QUESTION: Do you believe that his appointment of a new vice president – is that helpful?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s something that American Government representatives have been urging and requesting for 30 years. I talked – I’ve talked with former ambassadors over the last weeks who have said, “Boy, I remember when I went in in 1980-this or 1990-that.” So yes, it’s something we have said is absolutely imperative. It finally has happened. There are some new people taking responsibility in government. We hope that they can contribute to the kind of democratic and economic reforms that the people of Egypt deserve.

QUESTION: So far, though, it does not seem that anything that Mr. Mubarak has said or done up until this point has, in any way, tempered these demonstrations. I mean, things seem to be getting worse rather than better.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think there are several things going on. But first and foremost, words alone are not enough. There have to be actions. There has to be a demonstrable commitment to the kind of reforms that we all know are needed and desired, but also too, there is now, unfortunately, in addition to the legitimate, peaceful protests that are going on, lots of reports of looting, prison breaks, and the like. So it makes the situation much more complicated than it even was before, because everyone wants to ensure that the right of assembly, the right of association, the right of free expression be protected, that there be no violence against the protests.

At the same time, people in the streets have to refrain from violence themselves. And I’ve heard many stories of Egyptians protecting their national museum, protecting their homes. And they’re protecting them from looters and from criminals. So this is an incredibly complex set of circumstances, and we are hoping and praying that the authorities will be able to respond to the legitimate requests for participation by the peaceful protestors. Let’s begin to see some meetings with representatives of the government and representatives of civil society. Let’s begin to see some steps taken that will lead toward free, fair, and credible elections in the future.

Those will begin to put some substance behind the words and give the protestors who are trying to see a future for Egypt that is responsive to their needs a reality that they can hang onto.

QUESTION: All right. Madam Secretary, thank you so much.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.

 


Readout of President Barack Obama’s Call with President Mubarak of Egypt

The President spoke with Egyptian President Mubarak this morning on a broad range of issues, to include the New Year’s Day attack on a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria, developments in Tunisia and Lebanon, and how best to advance Middle East peace. The President extended his personal condolences to President Mubarak and the Egyptian people for the heinous bombing targeting Christians that occurred on New Year’s Day, and urged all sides to ease tensions and work toward improved relations among all religions. The President raised the latest developments in Tunisia, and shared with President Mubarak that the United States is calling for calm and an end to violence, and for the interim government of Tunisia to uphold universal human rights and hold free and fair elections in order to meet the aspirations of the Tunisian people. The President thanked President Mubarak for Egypt’s support for Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is attempting to end the era of impunity for political assassination in Lebanon, and achieve justice for the Lebanese people. The President and President Mubarak also discussed ways to advance efforts on Middle East peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

 
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Senator John Kerry On The Resignation Of President Mubarak

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) issued a statement today following the announcement that President Hosni Mubarak resigned:

“This is an extraordinary moment for Egypt. Courageous and peaceful demands for freedom and opportunity have now won the Egyptian people a chance at a new beginning. Now the hard work intensifies to prepare for free and fair elections that will allow the people to choose a broadly representative and responsive government.  Egypt’s army and transitional leaders must heed the call to lift the emergency law and clarify a timetable to establish a proper foundation for credible elections. The United States must help Egyptians turn this democratic moment into a process that builds a government responsive to economic needs as well as demands for freedom. What happens next will have repercussions far beyond Egypt’s borders. We know from recent experience in Gaza that this requires not just elections, but hard work to build a government that is transparent, accountable, and broadly representative.’

Attached is an op-ed by Chairman Kerry that appeared in The New York Times on February 1st calling on President Mubarak to step aside as soon as possible.    

New York Times

Allying Ourselves With the Next Egypt

By John Kerry

EVEN if the protests shaking Egypt subside in the coming days, the chaos of the last week has forever changed the relationship between the Egyptian people and their government. The anger and aspirations propelling a diverse range of citizens into the streets will not disappear without sweeping changes in the social compact between the people and the government — and these events also call for changes in the relationship between the United States and a stalwart Arab ally.

President Hosni Mubarak must accept that the stability of his country hinges on his willingness to step aside gracefully to make way for a new political structure. One of the toughest jobs that a leader under siege can perform is to engineer a peaceful transition. But Egyptians have made clear they will settle for nothing less than greater democracy and more economic opportunities.

Ushering in such a transformation offers President Mubarak — a great nationalist ever since his generation of young officers helped their country escape the last vestiges of British colonialism — the chance to end the violence and lawlessness, to begin improving the dire economic and social conditions in his country and to change his place in history.

It is not enough for President Mubarak to pledge “fair” elections, as he did on Saturday. The most important step that he can take is to address his nation and declare that neither he nor the son he has been positioning as his successor will run in the presidential election this year. Egyptians have moved beyond his regime, and the best way to avoid unrest turning into upheaval is for President Mubarak to take himself and his family out of the equation.

Further, he must guarantee that the election will be honest and open to all legitimate candidates and conducted without interference from the military or security apparatus and under the oversight of international monitors. The Egyptian people are demanding wholesale transformation, not window dressing. As part of the transition, President Mubarak needs to work with the army and civil society to establish an interim caretaker government as soon as possible to oversee an orderly transition in the coming months.

President Mubarak has contributed significantly to Middle East peace. Now it is imperative that he contribute to peace in his own country by convincing Egyptians that their concerns and aspirations are being addressed. If he demonstrates leadership and accomplishes those goals, he can turn the Arab world’s most populous country into a model for how to meet the demands for reform engulfing the region.

Given the events of the past week, some are criticizing America’s past tolerance of the Egyptian regime. It is true that our public rhetoric did not always match our private concerns. But there also was a pragmatic understanding that our relationship benefited American foreign policy and promoted peace in the region. And make no mistake, a productive relationship with Egypt remains crucial for both us and the Middle East.

To that end, the United States must accompany our rhetoric with real assistance to the Egyptian people. For too long, financing Egypt’s military has dominated our alliance. The proof was seen over the weekend: tear gas canisters marked “Made in America” fired at protesters, United States-supplied F-16 jet fighters streaking over central Cairo. Congress and the Obama administration need to consider providing civilian assistance that would generate jobs and improve social conditions in Egypt, as well as guarantee that American military assistance is accomplishing its goals — just as we are trying to do with Pakistan through a five-year nonmilitary assistance package.

The awakening across the Arab world must bring new light to Washington, too. Our interests are not served by watching friendly governments collapse under the weight of the anger and frustrations of their own people, nor by transferring power to radical groups that would spread extremism. Instead, the best way for our stable allies to survive is to respond to the genuine political, legal and economic needs of their people. And the Obama administration is already working to address these needs.

At other historic turning points, we have not always chosen wisely. We built an important alliance with a free Philippines by supporting the people when they showed Ferdinand Marcos the door in 1986. But we continue to pay a horrible price for clinging too long to Iran’s shah. How we behave in this moment of challenge in Cairo is critical. It is vital that we stand with the people who share our values and hopes and who seek the universal goals of freedom, prosperity and peace.

For three decades, the United States pursued a Mubarak policy. Now we must look beyond the Mubarak era and devise an Egyptian policy.

 
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Senator John Kerry on President Mubarak’s Announcement To Not Seek Reelection

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, today released the following statement after President Mubarak announced that he will not run for reelection:  

“This was an important announcement by President Mubarak to bring his presidency to an end and pledge that free and fair elections will be held.  I believe that President Mubarak should now work with the military and civil society to establish an interim caretaker government.

“It remains to be seen whether this is enough to satisfy the demands of the Egyptian people for change. We arrived at this point because millions of Egyptians spoke with one voice and exercised fundamental rights we Americans hold dear. They made it clear the future they want is one of greater democracy and greater economic opportunity. Now, that future belongs to them to shape. The Egyptian people are writing the next chapter of Egyptian history.

“Much work remains to be done to turn this auspicious moment into lasting peace and prosperity. Egyptians must now prepare for elections and achieve a peaceful transition of power. The military must continue to show the restraint it has so admirably exercised these past days. And opposition leaders must come together to develop a process that will ensure that all of Egypt’s voices are heard.

“As friends of the Egyptian people, there is much that the United States can do as well. Egypt has been a close ally of the United States for many years, and it is my fervent hope that our relationship can grow stronger as the Egyptian people take control of their destiny.”

 
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Secretary of Defense Robert Gates After Meeting with President Mubarak

SEC. GATES: Good afternoon. It was good to be in Egypt again. I’d like to start by thanking President Mubarak, the Egyptian government, and the Egyptian people for their gracious hospitality during this visit.

This morning I have very productive meetings with both President Mubarak and Field Marshal Tantawi. I first met President Mubarak nearly 20 years ago, and over the years multiple American presidents and administrations have benefited from his wise counsel. I appreciated the opportunity to continue that dialog today.

We discussed a number of security issues including Iran, the Palestinian-Israeli issue, next steps in Iraq, and the opportunities for more cooperation among the nations of the Middle East.

It will take full participation and leadership from Egypt to see progress on these issues, as has always been the case. For some time I have considered Egypt to be one of America’s most important partners. The United States has longstanding military-to-military relationships and other activities with the Egyptian military, to include the Bright Star exercises.

Our own military has benefited from the interaction with the Egyptian armed forces, one of the most professional and capable in the region. We are always looking for ways to expand these ties through education, training and exercises. In these and other security matters, I look forward to further cooperation between our two countries in the future.

Thank you.

Q (Off mike) — Al Jazeera English. You mentioned before coming here that your country assured both Egypt and Saudi Arabia about the new approach towards Iran and also to be realistic. By ‘realistic’ did you mean that what the United States did before, confrontation and sanctions, or that the new approach of — (inaudible) — and things like that? There is only one goal is to solve the Iranian nuclear program, and that means reassuring the region that this won’t be used against them?

SEC. GATES: Our goal really is two-fold. Obviously we want to try and stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program, but we also are interested in stopping Iran’s destabilizing efforts throughout the region. And I think that there is very broad concern in the region about Iran and its activities. And our goal is to continue to working with our friends in the region but at the same time see if there is an opportunity to begin trying to influence Iran to change its activities, its behavior, in the area.

Reaching out to Iran with an open hand in no way minimizes or changes the strong security relationship and strong political relationship that the United States has with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and our other long-term friends in the region.

If we encounter a closed fist when we extend our open hand, then we will react accordingly. But we think, the President believes that it is important for us to at least reach out to Iran and provide an opportunity to begin a dialog. But the focus of that dialog is on Iran’s behavior, and uppermost in our minds is taking measures necessary with our partners in the region to maintain their security and their stability, in particular against Iranian subversive activities.

Q The U.S. military relationship with Egypt — (inaudible) — the U.S. military declaration — (inaudible) — U.S. assistance to Egypt under the previous administration was linked to human rights progress. Is the Obama administration changing or shifting that policy? Did you hear concerns here in your talks about the level of U.S. military assistance to Egypt?

SEC. GATES: Well, clearly, the United States always is supportive of human rights, and that is no less true of the Obama administration than other administrations. By the same token, it is important to continue our work and our friendship with these countries. And the position of the administration is that as an example the foreign military financing that’s in the budget should be without conditions. And that is our sustained position.

Q (Inaudible) — the U.S. eager to do everything concerned with — (inaudible) — in the future and the fear of Israel — (inaudible) — Middle East free from mass destruction weapons? Thank you.

SEC. GATES: Well, I think the President has been very clear in his speech when he was in Europe about his desire for the entire to have a nuclear-weapons-free world. He hasn’t broken that down by region. Clearly that is our long-term objective.

Q Mr. Secretary, given the rising concern over instability in Pakistan, what are your expectations for a high-level meeting in Washington this week regarding the way that Saudi Arabia could play a greater role? What specifically could the Saudis do in helping to ease the problems in Pakistan, and are you going to make any request of them in Riyadh?

SEC. GATES: Well, as I said the other day, I think that the recent Taliban attacks that reached within 60 kilometers of Islamabad perhaps served as a wake-up call if you will to many in Pakistan that the Taliban operating inside Pakistan and other extremist groups have become a real danger to the Pakistani government. I think their response in sending the Army into Bernair and beginning to deal with that situation is really a recognition of that threat.

And so my hope is that during the talks in Washington next week that their role during the next few days is that there will be a common agreement on the nature of the threat and the importance of Afghanistan and Pakistan working closely together and with the United States to try, and our partners, to try and deal with that threat.

With respect to Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia clearly has a lot of influence throughout the entire region. They have a long-standing close relationship with Pakistan. And I think the key here is all of us doing what we can to help the Pakistani government deal with the emergent threat to its own existence from these violent extremists. And I think the Saudis along with other countries can play a constructive role in that.

Q (Off mike.)

SEC. GATES: I’m not sure I understood the question.

Q (Off mike) — critical. Next month is the election of Iran — (inaudible) — so if not, do you support Israel if — (inaudible) — attack Iran?

SEC. GATES: Well, I think those are completely different questions. I would say that I do not expect this dialog to–first of all, there is no dialog yet. There have been a few initial contacts, but there is no sustained dialog yet between the United States and Iran. And I expect it to develop, if it develops at all, will develop over a period of time. The United States goes into this with its eyes wide open. There have been previous attempts to establish a dialog with the Iranian government, and they have not proven successful. Our hope is that this time, as the President expressed it, if we extend an open hand that perhaps we will get something similar in response.

But I don’t expect this to develop in a way that would have any impact whatsoever on the Iranian election. I don’t think it will develop that quickly. And I’m not sure that even as it develops it would have any impact on that.

I continue to believe that we need to address our concerns with Iran. While all options are available of course, I believe that it is important to try and address our concerns about their nuclear weapons program through diplomatic and economic pressures, through trying to isolate Iran, toward building up the security capabilities of our friends in the region, and through cooperation with the Europeans, the Russians, and others to try and show Iran that its behavior is unwelcome to virtually all of the countries in the world.

Q Mr. Secretary, you mentioned on the plane on the way over that you felt some concerns in this region about the U.S. outreach to Iran were the result of an exaggerated sense of what might be possible. Can you expand on that? What in your view is a realistic expectation of what might be possible for an improved relationship with Iran?

SEC. GATES: Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t know what might be possible. I’ve been around long enough to see these efforts attempted before and with no result. The question is whether circumstances in Iran have changed in such a way that with the new administration offering an opportunity for contact, whether the Iranians are willing to take advantage of that opportunity.

I think that there’s, as I say I think it’s a dialog that if it happens at all will probably develop slowly. And I think what is important for friends and partners here in the Middle East to be assured of is that the United States will be very open and transparent about these contacts, and we will keep our friends informed of what is going on so that nobody gets surprised.

I think one of the areas where I think there has been some exaggerated concern has been some notion here in the region that there might be some grand bargain between the United States and Iran that would suddenly be sprung on them. And I would say that I believe that kind of prospect is very remote.

I think it’s highly unlikely, and we will just have to see how the Iranians respond to this offer from the President. Frankly, some of the first things that have happened subsequent to his extension of that open arm, open hand, have not been very encouraging in terms of statements coming out of Tehran.

We’re not willing to pull the hand back yet because we think there’s still some opportunity, but I think concerns out here of some kind of a grand bargain developed in secret are completely unrealistic, and I would say are not going to happen. And what is important for our friends to understand is that we will keep them informed and be transparent about this process.

 


Readout of President Obama’s Meeting with President Mubarak of Egypt

President Obama and President Mubarak met today and reaffirmed the strong ties between Egypt and the United States of America.

The leaders stated their strong support for the resumption of direct talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and President Obama thanked President Mubarak for his leadership and support for peace in the region. They expressed their hope that the resumption of direct talks will lead to two states living side-by-side in peace and security.

President Obama and President Mubarak consulted on the details of the launch event for direct talks at the Department of State scheduled for tomorrow. The President committed to staying in close contact with President Mubarak as the talks develop, and made clear that Egypt’s leadership will be needed to ensure that the talks are successful.

The leaders also discussed various regional issues of mutual interest, and President Obama reaffirmed the importance of a vibrant civil society, open political competition, and credible and transparent elections in Egypt. The President welcomes commitments Egypt has made as part of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review.

 


Remarks by Commissioner Elizabeth Prodromou Briefing on “Religious Freedom in Egypt”

Before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus Of the United States House of Representatives
Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Caucus:

On behalf of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, I wish to thank you, Mr. Chairman, and the Caucus for inviting me to brief you on behalf of the Commission on the situation of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief in Egypt and our recommendations for U.S. policy. I respectfully request that my written comments be submitted into the congressional record.

Since its inception, the Commission, which is an independent federal agency, has paid serious attention to Egypt, not only because of its importance in the region, but because Egypt is an important ally of the U.S. and the second largest recipient of U.S. aid. Our two governments also work together on key foreign policy issues such as the war on terror and Middle East peace.

Current domestic and international pressure for democratic reform in Egypt has set the stage for the U.S. government to seek an agreement with Egypt on a timetable for implementation of specific political and legal reforms to protect the human rights of all Egyptians. In order to create that foundation on which democracy can be built in Egypt, efforts at political reform must include steps to address serious violations of freedom of religion or belief and other related human rights. I will address what those specific steps should be in a moment.

If benchmarks for political reform are met, then the U.S. government should, within the boundaries of its overall aid to Egypt, provide economic assistance to areas where significant progress has been made. If benchmarks are not met, the U.S. government should reconsider the dimensions and direction of its economic assistance. The U.S. government also should do more to support those indigenous civil society groups in Egypt who are pressing for these or similar objectives.

Current State of Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and Religion or Belief

Mr. Chairman, the Commission traveled to Egypt last year and met with senior Egyptian government officials, as well as prominent religious leaders, human rights activists, women’s rights groups, and other civil society leaders. The Commission continues to receive information from a variety of sources and monitors closely the situation on the ground. After a careful review of the current situation, the Commission placed Egypt on its Watch List again this year.

The Commission found that discrimination, intolerance, and other human rights violations affect a broad spectrum of Egyptian society, including: Muslims, Christians, Jews, Baha’is and members of other religious communities. The Egyptian government has adopted measures in recent years to acknowledge certain aspects of the religious pluralism in Egyptian society. Yet more can and should be done by the government to protect the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, to punish those responsible for religiously-motivated violence, and to combat widespread and virulent anti-Semitism and other intolerance in the media and in the education system. If these steps are taken, they would demonstrate President Mubarak’s commitment to fostering a democratic society that respects human rights.

I would like to highlight three of the most serious issues that the Commission feels deserve immediate attention:

Societal violence against and lack of protection for Coptic Christians
Persistent anti-Semitism in the media and education system
Requirements on national ID cards that discriminate against Baha’is and others
Violent attacks on religious minorities, particularly Coptic Christians, by militant groups are an ongoing concern, especially in rural Upper Egypt. Unfortunately the violence last month in the normally peaceful coastal town of Alexandria resulted in the deaths of three Copts and injuries to dozens of others. According to numerous reports, Islamic extremists were responsible for instigating the violence. Egyptian authorities have said that a full-scale investigation is underway and should be made public after the final round of parliamentary elections concludes on December 1st.

Moreover, the Egyptian government does not provide adequate protection for Christians. For example, last year the Egyptian court system upheld the acquittal of 94 of 96 suspects who were charged in connection with the killing of 21 Christians and one Muslim in the Upper Egypt village of Al-Kosheh in early 2000. This effectively ended efforts to bring to justice the perpetrators of these crimes despite widely reported police negligence during the investigation of the case. Impunity signals that perpetrators can get away with such violent acts. The government has a responsibility to do better – from investigations to judicial proceedings.

Material vilifying Jews and Baha’is appears regularly in the state-controlled and semi-official media. Human rights groups continue to report virulent anti-Semitism in the education system, which is increasingly under the influence of extremists. Such material has included Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic cartoons and television programming such as the 24-part series based on the notorious forgery, the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Although Egyptian government officials have said that there is no official policy condoning anti-Semitism or other forms of intolerance, acts of anti-Semitism are virtually unopposed by government leaders.

All Baha’i institutions and community activities are banned, and Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Center has issued fatwas condemning Baha’is as apostates. Baha’is cannot even obtain mandatory identity cards – which are required by law – because religious affiliation is required on the cards and the only choices are Islam, Christianity, or Judaism. The Egyptian government’s computerization of the national ID card system reportedly goes into full effect by the end of this year. If Baha’is cannot obtain ID cards, they would be subject to arrest at anytime while in public and essentially be denied all rights of citizenship. From a recently dated official document obtained by the Commission, the Egyptian Ministry of Interior makes it clear that it not only does not allow the Baha’i faith to be accorded recognition on identity cards, but it also does not allow individual Baha’is to identify their religion as “other.”

In addition, individuals who change their religion from Islam to Christianity fear government harassment if the conversion is registered. Reportedly, converts have altered their own identification cards and other official documents to reflect their new religious affiliation. However, if the altered ID cards are discovered by authorities, criminal charges can result.

In addition to these immediate concerns of the Commission, there are several other issues worth raising today.

Other Concerns

Role of the State Security Services

The Egyptian State Security Services oversee religious affairs in Egypt and restrict the religious activities of Muslims, Coptic Christians, and others. Interference, harassment, and surveillance by the State Security Services are significant problems for members of all religious groups. While the potential for violence is a valid matter of state security, removing the religion “portfolio” from the State Security Services and placing responsibility for religious affairs in a more transparent and politically accountable section of the government could result in a situation that establishes both effective preventative security measures and appropriate protection of human rights, in accordance with international standards. This would allow members of all religious groups in Egypt to conduct their day-to-day affairs without undue interference by the security services.

The role of the State Security Services in religious affairs predates the 1981 Emergency Law. Nevertheless, the implementation of that law – which was renewed for another three years in February 2003 – has further undermined the protection of human rights in Egypt. The security forces continue to mistreat and torture prisoners, arbitrarily arrest and detain persons, and hold detainees in prolonged pretrial detention. The National Council for Human Rights, formed by the Egyptian government last year, recently called for an end to the State of Emergency. The Commission encourages President Mubarak to make good on his Presidential campaign promise to reconsider and lift the State of Emergency.

Islam

In Egypt, religious practices that conflict with the state-favored interpretation of Sunni Islamic law are prohibited. The Egyptian government regulates and exerts some control over Islamic religious institutions and activities, control that, according to the government, is necessary to combat religious extremism and terrorism. The state appoints and pays the salaries of all Sunni Muslim imams, and all mosques must be licensed by the government. Sermons are monitored by the State Security Services.

Non-Conforming Muslims and Other Non-Muslim Religious Minorities

Discrimination against members of religious minorities in law, in practice, and in society needs to be addressed immediately. Article 98(f) of the Egyptian Penal Code prohibits citizens from ridiculing or insulting the three so-called “heavenly” religions – Judaism, Christianity, or Islam – or inciting sectarian strife among them. While this law has not been used to prosecute acts of anti-Semitism or acts against Christianity, it has been used to punish those who openly disagree with the kind of Islam promoted by the state. Persons accused of practicing “unorthodox” Islamic religious beliefs that, in the state’s view, conflict with Islamic law continue to be prosecuted in the state security courts. These include non-conforming Muslims who are charged with practicing beliefs deemed to deviate from Islamic law. Other minority Muslims such as the tiny Shi’a community also have faced increasing abuse and imprisonment in recent years.

Permits to build or repair churches languish under restrictive rules which apply only to non-Muslims. There are approximately just over 100 applications to build new churches that have been submitted for approval by President Mubarak without response. Most of those applications have not been responded to for at least 5 years or more. Although provincial governors now have the authority to approve applications for church repair, hundreds of such applications are languishing in the system. Even some permits that have been approved cannot be acted upon because of interference by the state security services, at both the local and national levels.

After several years of close surveillance, authorities reportedly have increased repressive measures in the last year against the small community of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are not recognized by the Egyptian government. Jehovah’s Witnesses also have reported harassment and abuse by government authorities.

There also is a growing sense among human rights groups that Islamic extremism is advancing in Egypt, particularly with detrimental effects on the human rights of women and girls and influencing the public school curriculum.

Recommendations for U.S. Policy

The Egyptian government has recently taken some steps that its leaders assert will establish a more open political process, although the results of those efforts remain to be seen. Some experts considered the September Presidential elections a step forward while others felt that the political space for opposition was severely limited. The degree to which the Egyptian government is serious about opening the political process can, in part, be judged on what happens between now and the conclusion of the parliamentary elections in early December.

At present, the Egyptian government has the opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to democratic reform by ensuring and protecting the human rights of everyone, as affirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It could do so by taking action immediately in several areas related to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.

The Commission has made several specific recommendations for U.S. policy. I would like to highlight just a few that could be acted on by the Egyptian government without further delay:

shift de facto responsibility for religious affairs from the State Security Services with the exception of cases involving or advocating violence;
repeal state of emergency laws;
more actively investigate religious based violence against Egyptian citizens, particularly Coptic Christians, and prosecute perpetrators responsible for the violence;
implement procedures which would ensure that all places of worship are subject to the same transparent, non-discriminatory, and efficient regulations regarding construction and maintenance;
cease messages of hate and intolerance toward religious minorities in the media and education system;
review textbooks and remove inflammatory or intolerant materials;
take all appropriate steps to prevent and punish acts of anti-Semitism;
ensure that every Egyptian is protected against discrimination on the national identity card by removing religious affiliation; and
repeal a 1960 Presidential decree banning the Baha’i community from practicing their faith.
Furthermore, the U.S government should have the ability to directly fund civil society and human rights groups without vetting by the Egyptian government, including programs that extend beyond democracy and governance, such as educational programs.

Conclusion

Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief is a universal human right and its vigorous protection for all Egyptians will be not only a yardstick of political reform, but an essential component for any lasting democracy in Egypt.

I thank you for your attention.

 


Readout of the President’s Call with President Mubarak of Egypt

The President spoke with Egyptian President Mubarak this morning on a broad range of issues, to include the New Year’s Day attack on a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria, developments in Tunisia and Lebanon, and how best to advance Middle East peace. The President extended his personal condolences to President Mubarak and the Egyptian people for the heinous bombing targeting Christians that occurred on New Year’s Day, and urged all sides to ease tensions and work toward improved relations among all religions. The President raised the latest developments in Tunisia, and shared with President Mubarak that the United States is calling for calm and an end to violence, and for the interim government of Tunisia to uphold universal human rights and hold free and fair elections in order to meet the aspirations of the Tunisian people. The President thanked President Mubarak for Egypt’s support for Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is attempting to end the era of impunity for political assassination in Lebanon, and achieve justice for the Lebanese people. The President and President Mubarak also discussed ways to advance efforts on Middle East peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

 


Statement from Vice President Joe Biden on Meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt — Vice President Joe Biden issued the following statement today after his meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak:

“I am grateful to President Mubarak for his hospitality, and for the opportunity to discuss a broad range of issues. Egypt and the United States are partners in a shared desire to see peace and economic prosperity in the Middle East, North Africa, and Sudan. I thank Egypt for the leadership role it has played in supporting these priorities.

“Today, President Mubarak and I reiterated our commitment to reaching a comprehensive peace in the region. The United States recognizes and appreciates Egypt’s leadership in support for these efforts. The status quo is unsustainable for all sides. It is vital to make progress in the proximity talks between Israelis and Palestinians to enable the parties to move to direct negotiations as soon as possible that will result in an end to the occupation that began in 1967 and to a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel and a Palestinian state living in peace and security. In addition, we are consulting closely with Egypt, as well as our other partners, on new ways to address the humanitarian, economic, security, and political aspects of the situation in Gaza.

“In addition to the pressing priority of reaching comprehensive peace, we also discussed other areas of regional concern. We appreciate the vital role Egypt is playing in Afghanistan and its support for a strong, independent, unified and democratic Iraq.

“We discussed our serious concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. The international community continues to witness Iran’s non-compliance with its obligations to the United Nations Security Council and the International Agency for Atomic Energy, as well as Iran’s unwillingness to engage seriously with the P5+1 on its nuclear program. The United States remains committed to a diplomatic resolution to these serious issues, but we will continue to hold Iran accountable for its continued violations of its international responsibilities, in accordance with our dual-track policy. We expect to see developments in the United Nations Security Council to hold Iran accountable very soon. In addition to concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, we remain concerned about its destabilizing activities throughout the region, including with regard to its support for Hizballah and Hamas.

“We reaffirmed our commitment to supporting stability in Sudan, including Darfur, and the full implementation of Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and preparing for the referendum on southern self-determination in 2011.

“The United States looks forward to a continuing dialogue with Egypt on a broad range of interests, including Egypt’s ongoing political and economic reform. Elements such as respect for human rights and the need to continue working for a vibrant civil society and more open political competition are vital for Egypt to remain strong and serve as a model to the region. Egypt has made commitments as part of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, including accepting some of the Council’s recommendations. These commitments are important and I encourage Egypt to move ahead swiftly to implement fully those commitments and build upon that agenda.”

 
 

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