January 24, 2006 Special Dispatch No. 1075

Arab Media Reactions to the Imprisonment of Ayman Nour, Leader of Egypt's Al-Ghad Liberal Party

January 24, 2006
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 1075

On December 24, 2005, Ayman Nour, leader of Egypt's Al-Ghad ("Tomorrow") liberal party, which had come second in the September 2005 Egyptian presidential elections, was convicted by a civil court in Cairo of forging documents empowering him to establish his party, and was sentenced to five years' imprisonment.

Nour's sentence sparked highly critical reactions amongst intellectuals in Egypt and in the Arab media. The main arguments voiced were that Nour's sentence emanated from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's desire for revenge, and that its aim was to clear the way for Gamal Mubarak to succeed his father as president of Egypt with no rivals. Nour's trial, argued the critics, was unfair, pointing out that the presiding judge was the same judge who had handed down harsh sentences against a number of human rights activists, including Dr. Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim. The critics viewed Nour's sentence as a sentence against any Egyptian who wishes to take part in Egyptian political activity and calls for democratization, and does not belong to Mubarak's party. The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights expressed concern about the sentence, and demanded that Egypt's attorney general defer it. [1]

In addition, a campaign calling upon President Mubarak to free Ayman Nour was recently launched, with its website, , offering a petition to be signed by visitors worldwide. The campaign was sponsored by Nour's wife Gamila Isma'il, by several activists such as journalist Anna Mahjar-Barducci and Egyptian democracy and human rights activist Magdi Khalil, and by the reformist website . The list of signatories is headed by Egyptian human rights activist and head of the Ibn Khaldun Center Dr. Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim.

The following are highlights from the reactions of the Arab media.

Nour Represents the Kind of Politics We Yearn For

In her article in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Egyptian columnist Muna Al-Tahawi wrote: "Judging by the hundreds of riot policemen [present in the courtroom] with their helmets and clubs ready for action, people might think that a terrorist was on trial... - not the leader of a political party that had come second in last September's presidential elections. [Apparently], for some people in Egypt, Ayman Nour constitutes a graver danger than terrorism...

"The danger Nour posed [to the Egyptian regime] lay in the fact that he understood politics, and played it well... The sentence against him is a sentence against any [Egyptian] who dares to challenge the [regime]. The period of imprisonment to which he was sentenced was [also aimed against anyone] who wishes to take part in Egyptian political activity and calls for democratization, and does not belong to Mubarak's party or to the Muslim Brotherhood...

"Nour, surrounded by hundreds of supporters, not only presented the Al-Ghad party's detailed platform for ruling Egypt, but [also] harshly criticized the government and its mistakes... It is hard to believe that the government gave him a fair trial, since the presiding judge was the same judge who had handed down harsh sentences against a number of human rights activists, including Dr. Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim.

"The sentence handed down against Nour is a message [to the Egyptian public] - that the government has run out of patience with any kind of political [pluralism]. Many journalists and [Egyptian] citizens who documented the irregularities during the recent elections were subjected to beatings, threats, and violent actions [by the security apparatuses]. What message is the government conveying to the Egyptian [citizens] when it cuts off the opposition's channels [of activity]? After all, Ayman Nour represents the [kind of] secular politics for which many of us yearn." [2]

Nour's Imprisonment is an Act of Vengeance

In an article posted on the reformist website, Egyptian reformist Nabil Sharf Al-Din wrote: "Attorney Amir Salem, Nour's representative, described the court's decision as a political decision aimed at increasing the chance of Gamal [Mubarak's] appointment as president after his father..."

Sharf Al-Din mocks the charges that Nour forged documents empowering him to establish his party - including those of his father and his deputy: "Whoever wants to collect [signatures] in order to establish a party only has to tour some of the poor neighborhoods of Cairo... and give a few Egyptian lira to anyone who signs a power of attorney, without forgery and without any regret on the part of the signatories... [Furthermore], why did this issue come up only after Nour submitted his candidacy for the presidential elections - many months after he got the election committee's agreement to establish his party?... And what lies behind the haste in the deliberation of his case in court - when the Egyptian judicial [system] is known for its great sluggishness due to accumulation of millions of lawsuits, and for other reasons?"

Is it Mere Coincidence That the Judge Who Ruled Against Nour Also Ruled Against Dr. Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim?

"Another matter that aroused legitimate amazement is that the judge who ruled against Nour was 'Adel Abd Al-Salam Gum'a, who had presided in similar trials - such as the trails of the journalists Magdi Hussein and Saleh Bdewi, who were charged with slandering former agriculture minister Yousef Wali, as well as the journalists from Al-Masri Al-Yawm who were charged with slandering the housing minister, and before them the famous trial [against] Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim... We have the right to wonder about the coincidence whereby all these trials against [shapers of] public opinion ended up in Gum'a [courtroom]: Is it really a coincidence?...

"With this harsh verdict [against] Nour, Egypt has led its son [Nour], with his new idea, into the darkness of the cold prisons - a victim on the altar of the future, if there is, indeed, a future here... The Egyptian regime will change [nothing], and will not change itself [either], as long as it sells false promises and bogus commitments to the people..." [3]

Nour's Imprisonment Removes an Obstacle to Gamal's Succession

In the London Arabic-language daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, columnist Muhammad Abd Al-Hakam Diyab, an Egyptian residing in London, wrote: "Ayman Nour's imprisonment removed an obstacle from the path of the 'parallel' president [i.e. Gamal Mubarak] that had posed a real problem for Gamal's future and for arranging his succession... The sentence [against Nour] is not sufficient to dispel the worry and apprehensions [of Mubarak and his family], nor is it sufficient to sooth [their] urge for vengeance...

"[Even] After Nour was permitted to submit his candidacy for the presidency, and after he was thwarted in his voting area, Bab Al-Sha'riyya - where he had enjoyed great popularity - the 'parallel' president [Gamal] was [still] not satisfied with this situation, and, without consideration for Nour's health and financial difficulties, he wanted to punish him [as a lesson to others]...

"Public opinion sensed the spirit of [Mubarak's] vengeance from the moment the court panel judging the case was assembled. Heading the panel was a judge known to all as one who does not disagree with members of the Mubarak family in anything, and who, in the past, had headed the court which convicted Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim in a similar false lawsuit... This judge allegedly participated in forging election [results] in two voting areas - in Kardassa in the Al-Giza [district], and in Bandar Al-Mansoura in the Al-Dakhaliya [district]. Ayman Nour went to court with a suitcase of clothes that he had prepared for prison, because he knew the history of the one who was judging him!

"What happened to Ayman Nour was a message from Hosni Mubarak to those on [his] list for punishment and vengeance. [Mubarak] wanted to show that he could still intimidate. Just as he wreaked vengeance against Ayman Nour for himself, for his son, and for his family, thus he rewarded the interior minister, the justice minister, and all those who showed heroism in organizing and running violent activity, in violating the honor [of women], in forging elections, and in attacking judges. Thus he conveyed the message that it is forbidden to deviate from the limit set by Mubarak's family - and that anyone who deviates from it has only himself to blame." [4]

No Party Has Yet Condemned Nour's Sentence

In his article in the independent Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm, columnist Magdi Muhanna stated: "In the matter of the Al-Ghad party and its leader Ayman Nour, the government has acted stupidly, as it usually does in this kind of situation. [But] the opposition parties and the other political forces behaved even more stupidly. The stupidity of the government is understood. It does not want [real] reform, but wants to settle for pro forma reform, and [at the same time, it] to close the door to any other demand for reform.

"The silence of the opposition today over the oppression to which the Al-Ghad party and Ayman Nour have been subjected is the silence of the beast that bears gifts for the ruler... I have not yet heard any party, group, or political force condemning Ayman Nour's sentence, warning of the dangers [of the sentence], and expressing their fears of [the ramifications of this trial and this sentence] for democracy... The sentence in Nour's trial is not legally valid; [rather,] it is a political position, and a prosecution which is 99% political, with the remaining percent being paperwork, documents, and legal [deliberation]. These parties [which kept silent] are no good... they are acting solely for their own narrow interests and [their own] people, and think only about staying in their shabby seats, out of cheap opportunism.

"Ayman Nour lost his freedom in an open and notorious political game. Tomorrow these parties, which are fundamentally lacking in freedom and responsibility, will lose their [own] freedom!" [5]

[1], December 24, 2005. The spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Muhammad Mahdi Akef, also joined in the criticism, saying that the lawsuit against Nour was political, and not criminal., December 25, 2005.

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 27, 2005.

[3], December 28, 2005.

[4] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), January 1, 2006.

[5] As cited in Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), December 28, 2005.

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