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Sec. Clinton interview in March 2009 marginalizes human rights, says Mubaraks are ‘friends of the family’

During a March 2009 visit to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave an interview to al-Arabiya television. Clinton deemphasized the annual human rights report that criticized Egypt’s human rights record and talked up her friendship with the Mubaraks:

QUESTION: On another issue, the State Department issued a report about criticizing the human rights record of Egypt. And what kind of – in order for Egypt to enhance its record, what do you recommend or ask Egypt to do?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We issue these reports on every country. We consider Egypt to be a friend and we engage in very forthright conversations with our friends. And so we hope that it will be taken in the spirit in which it is offered, that we all have room for improvement. The United States, as you have seen under our new President, is moving to remedy some of the problems that we have had. We view human rights as very important. It’s central to our value system and to our foreign policy, and so we want to enlist others to make progress.

QUESTION: Is this file, by any chance, connected to the invitation – extended invitation – for President Mubarak to visit the United States?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. It’s an annual report. It is not in any way connected. We look forward to President Mubarak coming as soon as his schedule would permit. I had a wonderful time with him this morning. I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family. So I hope to see him often here in Egypt and in the United States.

[Emphasis mine]

Meanwhile, Mubarak’s son, Gamal, made a low-profile visit to Washington to meet with Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Howard Berman, and had small meetings with experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Council on Foreign Relations.

The human rights report for 2008 read, “In 2005 President Hosni Mubarak won a fifth consecutive six-year term with 88 percent of the vote in the country’s first presidential election, which was marred by low voter turnout and charges of fraud.” It added, “The government’s respect for human rights remained poor, and serious abuses continued in many areas. The government limited citizens’ right to change their government and continued a state of emergency that has been in place almost continuously since 1967.”

Secretary Clinton was loathe to criticize Mubarak’s human rights record in public, but as the report and subsequent Wikileaks cables show, they had significant doubts about the regime in private.

Secretary Clinton’s statement Friday did not mention Mubarak by name but equivocated on the use of violence: “We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protesters and we call on the Egyptian government to do everything in its power to restrain the security forces. At the same time, protesters should also refrain from violence and express themselves peacefully.”

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