Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim
Open Letter to the European Parliament on Ayman Nour's case
Saad Eddin Ibrahim is a leading Egyptian pro-democracy activist and a sociologist. In 1988, he founded the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies at the American University of Cairo, creating one of the few independent research institutions in the Arab world.
Dr. Ibrahim was arrested in Cairo on June 30, 2000, shortly after he published a sarcastic critique of the possibility that Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, would seek to install his son Gamal as his successor. He and two dozen of his staff members were rounded up and charged in state security court. Dr. Ibrahim was convicted of taking outside funds without permission, disseminating information harmful to Egypt's interests, and defrauding the European Union (which had contributed funding to the Ibn Khaldun Center). The guilty verdict was handed down even before the defense had a chance to finish its case, and the court sentenced Dr. Ibrahim to seven years of hard labor. In 2003, Egypt's highest appeals court issued a sudden reversal and found him innocent of all charges.
During his imprisonment, Dr. Ibrahim experienced a series of strokes, and he underwent surgery at the Johns Hopkins Medical Center upon his release.
Dr. Ibrahim has reopened the Ibn Khaldun Centre for Development Studies, which was closed during the two and a half years of his arrest. He found the center looted, his files pillaged, and even sinks, telephones and furniture destroyed or damaged.
May 17, 2006
Distinguished members of the European Parliament:
Allow me at the outset to thank you for holding these hearings on the plight of a fellow Egyptian and parliamentarian, Dr. Ayman Nour. Millions of other Arab and Egyptian democrats have taken note of these deliberations, and are deeply grateful for your interest in our struggle for freedom, your support for our cause, and your solidarity with Dr. Nour.
I also apologize for not delivering this statement in person. As you may know, these hearings are scheduled in the midst of a tumultuous time in Egypt. Today (Wednesday, May 17th), the judges of Egypt have scheduled a meeting in preparation for the third session of the disciplinary trial of two of their senior colleagues who dared to blow the whistle on eyewitness episodes of serious fraud during last autumn’s parliamentary elections. Somehow the Mubarak regime contends that by going public the two judges violated customary judicial discretion and propriety. More on that later.
In my statement to you, I will not dwell on the technical legal details of Ayman Nour’s case. For very few in Egypt if any believe the poorly trumped-up charges, hurriedly put together in two days at the end of January last year (2005), only three months after the establishment of El Ghad Party (October 2004). Moreover, the legality of the case is still being contested in the courts. As a matter of fact, an appeal by Nour’s lawyers is being ruled on tomorrow, May 18th. Therefore, instead of delving into legal minutiae, I have opted to present a brief political reading of the larger national context of the case. My perspective is that of a pro-democracy activist who was victimized by the Mubarak regime some six years ago on equally false, indeed almost identical trumped-up charges. In fact, it was even the same State Security Court judge, M.A. Gomaa, who convicted me to seven years at hard labor and then later condemned Nour to languish in the same dark cell block at Tora Farm Prison south of Cairo.
The case of Ayman Nour is both a symptom of a chronically sick regime refusing to exit the scene peacefully and a symbol of a new order that is being forcibly prevented from emerging. Desperately clinging to power, the 78 year-old ailing Egyptian President has systematically been eliminating all viable alternatives to his or his family’s hold on power -- even distant contenders. Ayman Nour’s real crime is that he was more than a distant contender. His mettle had been tested since his first election as Student Union President of Mansura University, and later he won election after election as either a member of the opposition or as an independent in Egypt’s Peoples Assembly (Parliament), in one of the oldest and highly contested Cairo districts, Bab El Shar’iya.
His youth, charisma, critical boldness, and above all his electability were more than enough to make Ayman Nour a cause for concern for the Mubarak family. When he finally succeeded in establishing a political party of his own, El Ghad (Tomorrow), warning bells rang out in the Presidential Palace. As thousands of Egyptian youth poured in to join El Ghad, still louder alarm bells sounded in the Mubarak family compound. This was an imminent threat to the man whom the family had been grooming for years as a successor to the Presidency, the son Gamal. About the same age (42) and vigor as Ayman, Gamal is neither as charismatic nor as electable on his own merits. Despite his high ranking as number three in his father’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and constant media attention, Gamal has in fact never been elected to any position, let alone to a seat in Parliament. He has always been appointed to any position of note by his father.
Nour is no forger or swindler, but rather a respected lawyer, journalist, hard working member of the Peoples Assembly, and an upright citizen, not to mention a loving husband and father of three young boys. Nour is an enemy neither of the state nor of Mubarak himself. He is simply an appealing, daring, and highly outspoken political adversary, exercising his human and constitutional right and duty to address pressing public issues. Yes, he represents a viable moderate secular alternative to both the Mubaraks and the Muslim Brothers. But the Mubaraks do not want such an alternative to be on the scene -- or anywhere in the theater. They would prefer to have an Islamist scarecrow to frighten the secular middle class, educated women, and Coptic Christians, as well as their Western friends abroad. Their cynical calculation is that no matter how despotic or corrupt the Mubaraks may be, all of the above constituencies will ultimately side with them, even if grudgingly.
The majority of Egyptians still do not want either Mubarak or the Muslim Brothers. That is why over 75% of eligible voters stayed home during last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections. Though still a minority, an increasing number of Egyptians are casting protest votes for the Muslim Brothers out of despair and frustration with the Mubaraks. In the year 2000 elections, the Brothers obtained 6% of the vote (17 seats) and then more than quadrupled that to 20% in 2005 with 88 seats. In brief, more and more Egyptian voters are seeing through the Mubaraks’ scarecrow ploy, but the Europeans and Americans have yet to do so.
If Ayman Nour was a credible but peaceful combatant against the Mubarak regime, today the latter is bitterly engaged in three additional battles. One is over sectarian strife in which the regime neither responds favorably to long-standing demands of the Copts for equal citizenship rights nor protects their churches from Islamic fanatics. Earlier in April, three of their churches in the heart of Alexandria were attacked in a row by one such extremist, killing and wounding scores of Christian worshipers. Over the following three days, Alexandria witnessed unprecedented angry Coptic marchers carrying crosses in the streets and protesting not the one hapless fanatic, but the Mubarak regime’s failure to provide adequate security despite an earlier though comparatively minor episode last October (2005). This is the first time in recorded history that the usually docile Copts have collectively acted with such militancy.
The second battle is with the North Sinai Bedouins, whose angry and alienated youth have attacked state and tourist targets in April. Like the Copts, Bedouins have long-standing grievances that the Mubaraks have ignored. They feel like third-class citizens in their own ancestral land, compared to Egyptians from the Nile Valley (first class) and other residents of South Sinai (second class). Only the Bedouin are without the right to own registered land in Sinai, even if they have been grazing animals on it or cultivating it for centuries. Billions of dollars are invested in the ebullient resorts of South Sinai, and the Mubaraks spend as much as half the year there. But very little is invested in Central or North Sinai, and the Mubaraks have not visited it even once ever since attending the ceremony of its liberation from Israel in April 1986. It was no accident that young Sinai militants struck on the 20th anniversary of that event.
The third far-reaching battle, in that of Egypt’s 8,000 judges standing up to the Mubaraks’ continuous encroachment on their jurisdiction as an independent branch of government. Through their Club (the functional equivalent of a professional union), they submitted a draft for a new law to return the Judiciary to the independent role it played before the mid-1950s. Further, two of the senior judges dared to speak out publicly about last year’s fraudulent election practices, including the executive branch’s tampering with results signed and sealed by fellow judges who had done the monitoring and counting. Instead of investigating the allegations, the Minister of Justice (part of the Executive) chose to use his prerogative to indict the two senior judges on the flimsy charge of having violated the ethical judicial code of propriety. Nearly all of their 8,000 colleagues stood fast in solidarity with the two whistleblowers. More to the surprise of the Mubaraks, thousands of other ordinary Egyptians have rallied in solidarity around the High Court building where the disciplinary trial is taking place. As a result, on two consecutive Thursdays the center of Cairo has turned into a war-like zone as some 20,000 riot policemen have tried violently to control or disperse the crowds.
The confluence of two of these battles with the Mubaraks’ despotic regime will be on display tomorrow, May 18th, as the hearing of the two senior judges (Hisham Bastawisi and Mahmoud Mekki) and Ayman Nour’s appeal are coincidentally scheduled to take place in two separate halls of the same Court building.
In conclusion, I urge the honorable members of the European Parliament to keep a close watch on the Egyptian scene, both tomorrow and beyond. Speak out and demand justice and application of the rule of law in Egypt. Six years ago, you stood by me and 27 of my associates at the Ibn Khaldun Center, until we were acquitted by the High Court of all charges leveled at us by Egypt’s autocrats. I again appeal to your sense of justice on behalf of Ayman Nour, his family, and millions of Egyptians and Arabs to stand by Nour as well as the judges, the Copts, and the Sinai Bedouins in their battles with the regime. We do not want for ourselves, no do we wish for you in Europe and the rest of the world to be coerced into choosing between the autocrats and the theocrats. Egypt is too pivotal for that. Ayman Nour symbolizes the third path between the two, that of the democrats.
Use your liberty to liberate Nour and help Egypt to become a democracy. Thank you.