Thursday, December 29, 2005

Dissident Watch: Ayman Nour

Middle East Forum

by Suzanne Gershowitz
Middle East Quarterly
Summer 2005, p. 96

On January 29, 2005, just a day before Iraq's first free elections in a half-century, the Egyptian government moved to shut down its own fledgling opposition, arresting 40-year-old Ayman Nour, chairman of the upstart Ghad (Tomorrow) party.

In Egypt, the government licenses political parties, a power it has used to constrain opposition. Nour, a lawyer who entered the Majlis ash-Sha'b (People's Assembly) in 1994, broke with the establishment nationalist Wafd Party in 2000, disillusioned with the lack of liberal reform. The same year, he published a book advocating liberalism over Islamist politics, Yawmiyat Suhufi Mushaghib (The Memoir of a Troublemaking Journalist),[1] and began efforts to form his own liberal party. After more than three years of bureaucratic hold-up, the Egyptian government formally recognized Ghad as Egypt's first new opposition party in more than a half-century.[2] On paper, Ghad's influence is slight. It has only six deputies in Egypt's 454-seat assembly while Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party has 415.

But unlike other Egyptian parliamentarians, Nour used his People's Assembly seat to agitate for concrete reforms. Three weeks prior to his arrest, he antagonized the Egyptian government by submitting a draft constitution mandating contested elections rather than a simple referendum on the incumbent's rule.[3] As a result, Nour's popularity has been on an upswing. One Egyptian analyst predicted he could win 20 to 30 percent of the vote.[4]

Mubarak, 76, retaliated with charges many Egyptians considered spurious. He accused Nour of forging signatures he collected in order to establish the party, a charge Nour rejects. Upon arrest, security forces kept him in a room less than 12 square feet at Nora prison.[5]

Rather than ignore the domestic abuses of an important ally, the State Department stood up for the dissident. On January 31, a State Department spokesman called on the Egyptian government to reconsider Nour's arrest.[6] During Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Abdul-Gheit's February 15, 2005 visit to Washington, the question of political reform in Egypt "reared its head … everywhere,"[7] according to a report in Al-Ahram. Displaying her displeasure at Nour's treatment, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cancelled a visit to Egypt.[8]

It worked. On February 26, Mubarak announced plans to allow opposition candidates to contest presidential elections and, on March 12, he released Nour from prison.

It is too soon to tell whether Mubarak's concessions are sincere. He has not agreed to legalize all political parties or to allow international electoral monitoring.[9] His foreign minister has ridiculed U.S. support of democracy in Egypt.[10] While Nour has declared his intention to run, he still faces trial on June 28, and Mubarak's National Democratic Party seems intent on sabotaging his campaign.[11] There is no guarantee that Egyptian authorities will allow him to appear on the ballot. Nevertheless, Washington does have leverage; at $1.8 billion, Egypt is the third largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid after Iraq and Israel.[12]

Suzanne Gershowitz is a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.

[1] Cairo: Dar al-Hurriya, 2000. See also The Washington Post, Mar. 12, 2005.
[2] Ayman Nour, "Letter From Prison: 'Did I Take Democracy Too Seriously,'" Newsweek, Mar. 14, 2005.
[3] Al-Ahram Weekly (Cairo), Feb. 17-23, 2005.
[4] The Washington Post, Mar. 12, 2005.
[5] Nour, "Letter From Prison."
[6] U.S. Department of State, news briefing, Jan. 31, 2005.
[7] Al-Ahram Weekly, Feb. 17-23, 2005.
[8] The New York Times, Feb. 26, 2005.
[9] The Washington Post, Mar. 15, 2005.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Al-Ahram Weekly, Mar. 31-Apr. 6, 2005.
[12] Curt Tarnoff and Larry Nowels, "Summary," Foreign Aid: An Introductory Overview of U.S. Programs and Policy, Congressional Research Service, Apr. 15, 2004.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Egypt - Emma Bonito: Ayman Nour's sentencing is yet another blunder by a regime falling to pieces

Egypt - Emma Bonito: Ayman Nour's sentencing is yet another blunder by a regime falling to pieces

Statement by Emma Bonino, MEP and member of the Secretariat of Rosa nel Pugno

Rome, December 28th 2005 - "One notable exception exists to the saying "History never repeats itself,": the régime run by Hosni Mubarak, a stagnant reality for over twenty years. " This is the comment made by the radical leader Emma Bonino, currently on mission in Sri Lanka to monitor Italian aid following last year's Tsunami devastation, on the five year sentence to prison inflicted on the president of the Egyptian Liberal Party, Ayman Nour.

"Similarly to what happened to Saad Ibrahim only a few years ago", continues Emma Bonino,"this ruling too has a political flavour and it was passed exactly for the same reasons: to use all possible excuses to hinder any liberal alternative might make headway in the country , even at the risk of repeating clumsy performances critisized by the international community in the past compelling Mubarak to embarassing about- turns.

Ayman Nour's sentencing is yet another blunder by a régime falling to pieces. As in the past, a major international mobilisation is necessary to support all those that, in Egypt, are active in trying to overturn this farcical verdict".

Saturday, December 24, 2005

BBC News - Egyptian opposition leader jailed

BBC News

Ayman Nour
The Egyptian government says the court trying Nour is neutral
Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour has received a five-year jail term after being found guilty of fraud.

Nour, who came second in a presidential poll in September, was first held in January this year accused of falsifying signatures to register his party, Ghad.

Egypt denies Nour's claim that the charges are politically motivated. And the US has voiced concern at the trial.

Hundreds of Nour's supporters at the court shouted slogans against President Hosni Mubarak as the verdict was given.

"Hosni Mubarak's rule is illegal! The trial is illegal!" they chanted.

According to the BBC's Bethany Bell in Cairo, the streets near the court were full of riot police and Ghad party supporters.

Nour has been in hospital after starting a hunger strike earlier this month in protest at his detention.

US concern

His lawyer, Amir Salim, is quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying the decision against him will "go into the dustbin of history".

"This is a political verdict that will be annulled by the appeal court," he said.

A co-defendant in the trial, Ayman Ismail, had admitted forging documents for Nour - but later withdrew his testimony, saying the confession was forced out of him with threats against his family.

Despite the charges against him, Nour was allowed to compete in presidential polls, where his party finished second to Mr Mubarak's.

He lost his assembly seat to a candidate from the ruling party in November.

The has US earlier said it was watching Nour's trial, which it regards as a test of Cairo's tolerance of dissent.

State department spokesman Adam Ereli said this month that the US was calling on Egypt "to make every effort to ensure that this trial conforms to international standards".

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

BBC News - Testimony withdrawn

Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour
If convicted Mr Nour could face up to 15 years in prison

The condition of Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour, who has been on hunger strike in prison for 11 days, has improved slightly, his lawyer says.

Amir Salim told the BBC that doctors had given Mr Nour injections of glucose and insulin and made him drink tea.

Mr Nour, who is on trial for forging petition signatures to register his al-Ghad party last year, says he is protesting at his treatment in prison.

He denies the charges and has said they are politically motivated.

Mr Salim said his client, who is a diabetic, was still very weak and was insisting on continuing his hunger strike until Saturday, when the judge is due to deliver his verdict.

If convicted, Mr Nour could face up to 15 years in prison.

The US says it is watching the trial closely.

Testimony withdrawn

A co-defendant in the trial, Ayman Ismail, had admitted forging documents for Mr Nour - but he has since withdrawn his testimony, saying the confession was forced out of him with threats against his family.

Mr Nour gained prominence when he formed his party in October 2004.

He was arrested in January and was detained for six weeks without charge until his release on bail.

Despite his ongoing trial, Mr Nour was allowed to stand in both the presidential and parliamentary elections earlier this year.

Mr Nour came second to President Hosni Mubarak in September's presidential poll, but lost his seat in the People's Assembly to Mr Mubarak's National Democratic Party in November.

He was jailed again by the courts earlier this month.

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Human Rights Watch Egypt : Ayman Nur Trial Badly Flawed

Judge Jails Opposition Leader, Others, Without Explanation
December 6, 2005

The decision by the presiding judge to jail the Egyptian opposition party leader Ayman Nur and other defendants during their trial on Monday underscores the highly politicized conduct of the case, Human Rights Watch said today. Nur, a member of parliament who ran against President Hosni Mubarak in September’s presidential election, faces criminal charges of forgery over many of the signatures that his Ghad (Tomorrow) Party needed to get legal recognition.

Human Rights Watch has monitored the 17 sessions of the trial, which began on June 28. On Monday, the presiding judge, `Adil `Abd al-Salam Guma`, scheduled a final session for Saturday, December 10. He then abruptly ordered Nur and the others, who had been free on bail, confined to jail until the Saturday session.

Nur’s defense attorneys told Human Rights Watch that they expect the judge to issue verdicts at Saturday’s session, following closing remarks from defense and prosecution attorneys.

“Ayman Nur’s trial, like the violence against voters in the parliamentary elections, is a terrible advertisement for President Mubarak’s supposed reform agenda, and for Egypt’s judiciary,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division. “In the courtroom, as at the voting booths, there is little tolerance for challenges to the ruling party’s hegemony.”

The state is trying Nur with five others charged in the case. The five provided confessions before the trial started saying Nur instigated the forgery scheme and pressured them to take part. It appears that they are hoping to be acquitted in return for turning state’s witness in the case. A seventh person is being tried with them in absentia.

Throughout the trial, the other defendants’ lawyers persistently defamed Nur and his defense team and interrupted their arguments, but Judge Guma` consistently rejected requests from Nur’s attorneys to stop them.

One of the defendants, Ayman Isma’il Hassan, retracted his statement against Nur in the second session of the trial, on June 30, saying that security agents had coerced him into making the statement. Judge Guma` at first refused to allow his retraction to be put into the record. Isma’il repeated his retraction of his confession at the next session, on July 6, and requested the court to order the government to protect him from reprisal. Judge Guma` on this occasion did allow the retraction to be entered into the record, but rejected Isma’il’s request for protection, saying he was not responsible for anything outside the courtroom.

Judge Guma` consistently refused to grant most defense requests for access to relevant documents, such as copies of the signatures that were allegedly forged. The judge also refused a request to subpoena the minutes of the January 19, 2005, meeting of the Ministry of Interior’s Public Audit Bureau, which generated the forgery accusations.

The judge initially denied the defense counsels’ request to subpoena testimony from `Adil Yassin, an official of the Public Audit Bureau, even though one person called by the defense testified that he witnessed Yassin discussing plans with another defendant, Isma’il Zakariyya, to entrap Nur in the forgery scheme; Judge Guma` subsequently allowed Nur’s defense team to subpoena Yassin. In his testimony, Yassin said that he received five forged signatures and “information” that Ayman Nur and two other “unknown” persons were responsible for the forgeries.

In the trial’s 10th session, on November 29, Judge Guma` rejected as irrelevant 15 questions that Nur’s lawyers put to witnesses. But in the same session, despite objections from Nur’s lawyers, he allowed questions from the other defendants’ lawyers that were solely intended to insult and defame Nur.

The initial court sessions were held in a small downtown courtroom in which plainclothes and uniformed security officers took up most seats, sometimes preventing lawyers as well as journalists and supporters of the defendants from attending. The sessions were eventually moved to a larger courtroom in Nasr City, a Cairo suburb.

Nur, who was jailed for 45 days in January when he was arrested on the forgery charges, mounted the strongest challenge to President Mubarak in Egypt’s first contested presidential elections in September. In the parliamentary elections, Nur lost his seat to a candidate from the ruling National Democratic Party, and all other Ghad Party candidates lost their bids as well. Nur has charged that “a decision was taken at the highest level that Ghad would not win a single seat.”

Ayman Nur’s trial, like the violence against voters in the parliamentary elections, is a terrible advertisement for President Mubarak’s supposed reform agenda, and for Egypt’s judiciary. In the courtroom, as at the voting booths, there is little tolerance for challenges to the ruling party’s hegemony.

Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division