Handling Dissent in Egypt

I have no commentary of my own to add here, and these various articles say it very well.

A WaPo article from earlier this month: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/02/AR2008080201545.html

CAIRO, Aug. 2 — A prominent dissident who has urged the United States to tie financial aid to Egypt to democratic reform was sentenced to two years in prison Saturday.

The dissident, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, had harmed Egypt’s reputation through his writings in the “foreign press,” Judge Hisham Bashir ruled.

Ibrahim has been living in self-imposed exile since last summer, dividing his time between other Arab countries, the United States and Europe. He was not in court for the verdict.

In a telephone interview in June 2007, Ibrahim said he expected to be imprisoned if he ever returned to Egypt. Ibrahim, 69, said that his health had suffered from three previous stays in prison for criticizing President Hosni Mubarak’s 27-year administration and that he did not want to put his family through the experience again.

The ruling Saturday did not specify which of Ibrahim’s writings had been deemed damaging.

Despite the Bush administration’s frequent voicing of support for democracy

In March, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice overrode a recommendation by Congress to withhold $100 million in U.S. aid to Egypt until the country improved its human rights record and strengthened measures against arms-smuggling to the Gaza Strip.

What are presumed to be the controversial writings in question are here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/20/AR2007082001500.html

By Saad Eddin Ibrahim
Tuesday, August 21, 2007; Page A15

This month marked the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of Egyptian journalist Reda Hilal. Rumors about the involvement of a secret government death squad tasked with silencing detractors of the ruling Mubarak family in this and other disappearances — such as that of Libyan dissident Mansour Kikhia in Cairo in 1993 — have spiked in recent weeks.

On Aug. 8, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights reported that it had confirmed more than 500 cases of police abuse since 1993, including 167 deaths — three of which took place this year — that the group “strongly suspects were the result of torture and mistreatment.” The organization previously found that while Egypt’s population nearly doubled during the first 25 years of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, the number of prisons grew more than fourfold and that the number of detainees held for more than one year without charge or indictment grew to more than 20,000.

Another reason for U.S. silence is Mubarak’s exploitation of Islamophobia, rampant in many Western circles. On Mubarak’s own turf, the banned opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood has steadily increased its support among voters, with its candidates, running as independents, garnering 20 percent of the seats in parliamentary elections in 2005, despite the regime’s continuous harassment and arrest of Brotherhood leaders and rank-and-file members. Hamas, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, swept Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006. Increasingly, in majority-Muslim countries where autocracies have bred inefficiency and corruption, populist groups such as the Brotherhood can attract a strong protest vote.

Yet in Egypt, the regime remains strong and is quick to silence critics. Recently it focused its attacks on the work of democracy activists and researchers at the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, which I founded nearly two decades ago. Nine members of the ruling party have filed legal requests to close the center. They want to see me and other staff members prosecuted, alleging that we have tarnished the country’s image abroad, shown contempt for religion, undermined the national interest and committed high treason.

Between 2000 and 2003, the center’s offices were ransacked by the State Security Agency, and 27 employees were jailed. It took three years, multiple trials and three tours in prison — where my health deteriorated — before Egypt’s Court of Cassation, the country’s sole remaining independent court, acquitted us of all charges. The egregious nature of the case led the court to rebuke those responsible, citing abuses emanating from the presidency.

More recently, similar attacks have been orchestrated against Ayman Nour, head of the Tomorrow Party, and two nephews of Anwar Sadat. The men, all members of the Egyptian parliament, were arrested on flimsy charges, tried and imprisoned. Nour is now in precarious health, and recently published photos show bruises he sustained from mistreatment while jailed.

I am a 68-year-old pacifist academic in poor health. I do not fit the profile of these other men. Yet, according to regime-controlled media accounts, I am very influential with oil-rich Gulf Arabs, Hamas, Hezbollah, Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood, the European Union, and, above all, the White House and the U.S. Congress. None of these media outlets admits that in my scholarly capacity as a student of social movements I see all kinds of activists and political actors.

My real crime is speaking out in defense of the democratic governance Egyptians deserve. In May, I helped organize a meeting of Arab democrats in Doha, Qatar. Soon after, I attended a conference of veteran European and Third World dissidents in Prague at which President Bush gave a speech. Afterward, Bush chatted with me and a few others for a couple of minutes. To some, this is “proof” of my “influence” in Washington. When the House Appropriations Committee voted a few days later to attach conditions — mainly regarding political reform and tighter security of the borders with Gaza — to the $1.3 billion annual aid package to Egypt, I was solely to blame, according to the regime. (Would that I had a fraction of the influence attributed to me by the state-controlled media!)

These are just exerpts; there is more information in the articles. Have a good Saturday.

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