Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Al Ahram weekly : Case continues

The fate of imprisoned opposition leader Ayman Nour is still unsettled, reports Mona El-Nahhas

The Administrative Court announced on Tuesday that any decision on whether Al-Ghad Party leader Ayman Nour will be released must wait until 26 June, when official medical reports into the opposition leader's state of health -- asked for on 22 May -- are due to be issued. Meanwhile, the court ruled that Nour's defence counsel -- who had complained of procrastination in preparing the official report -- could present evidence from independent medical specialists regarding their client's health.

The court ruling means that if the official report, prepared by the Forensic Medicine Department, is not presented within two weeks then the court will rely on independent assessments of Nour's health in delivering its ruling, raising hopes among supporters of the 43-year-old Nour that his 18 months behind bars might soon come to an end.

The judge presiding over the appeal for Nour's release stressed the court would not swayed by national or international calls for Nour's release, and the decision would be based entirely on the state of Nour's health. The former presidential election candidate suffers from diabetes, heart problems and hypertension and last year underwent heart surgery while in prison.

Nour's lawyer, Amir Salem, said the court's decision was a "historical ruling", adding it represented "a severe blow to administrative bodies used to ignoring court requests".

Nour's wife Gamila Ismail told reporters she had never expected the medical report to be made available to the court panel, which was why she was treating the court ruling as a victory.

But while Salem sounded upbeat, saying any ruling in Nour's favour must be implemented immediately, Ismail sounded a more cautious note, saying she feared US pressure for her husband's release could make the regime more stubborn about the case.

Legal sources say there is a possibility the Interior Ministry will ignore any ruling in Nour's favour, using the struggle between several legal bodies, including Prosecutor-General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud's office, over who has the right to judge the case. While some observers worry about the negative consequences of US pressure for Nour's release, others point to the case of academic and pro-democracy activist Saadeddin Ibrahim. Sentenced by a state security court in 2001 to seven years in prison for receiving foreign funds without government permission, Ibrahim was released in 2003 following enormous US pressure.

Ahead of Tuesday's hearing session international calls for Nour's release increased.

During a short visit to Egypt this week a delegation from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe talked with Egyptian officials about Nour's health.

"We are following Nour's case, and we are waiting for the court verdict, expected to be passed on Tuesday," said Sarah Ludford, a member of the European parliament.

During a conference on democracy held in the Czech Republic last week US President George W Bush called directly for Nour's release. "I look forward to the day when conferences like this one include... Ayman Nour of Egypt," Bush said.

The point was subsequently underlined by the US State Department.

"We believe that Nour should be released. We hope this could be achieved. We'll leave it to the Egyptian government to define the way by which it expresses its reactions," said Tom Cass, deputy spokesman of the US State Department.

"What Bush said concerning Egypt is an unacceptable intervention in our internal affairs," insisted Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit following Bush's speech.

The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) also weighed in with its disapproval. "Bush's statements concerning Nour's case place Egypt under no obligation," said NCHR Secretary-General Mokhles Qotb. "The law defines the legal channels that are pursued in this and similar cases."

Following a meeting of the Al-Ghad Party's higher committee a statement was released on Friday condemning Bush's statements and any external intervention in the case.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Mubarak's Egypt: Zero Tolerance for Opposition

June 17, 2007

Ayman Nour
is still languishing in jail, since he was imprisoned in January 2005. His crime? His popularity threatened to eclipse Mubarak in the country's 2005 elections. Geez, if it were that easy, why didn't we think of something like this back in 2000?

His chances were estimated at about 30%, which really would not constitute a threat, but the perception of his popularity seemed to be more in question than the reality itself. And what of the continuity of the Mubarak legacy, as in son
Gamal Mubarak?

Though there have been continuous crackdowns on fledgling voices for change, and
occasional noises from the U.S. charging that Egypt needs to be more democratic, there is little doubt that Mr. Mubarak has been running a tight ship for the last quarter century. Frankly, I think anyone whose tenure exceeds six years needs a vigorous dusting, a scrubbing with bleach and/or ammonia and a return to the general population with rose water filled blessings.

The June 15th issue of the New York Times had this headline on page A6:"Arrests in Egypt Point Toward a Crackdown". Before reading the article, I was a bit puzzled by the words point towards a crackdown. Is someone sleeping on the Editor's desk over there or what? Let's wake these folks up with some events which precede the story behind
Abdellatif Muhammed Said's arrest, at the bright hour of 2:00am, June 14th.

Last Wednesday, an
Al Jazeera TV journalist was jailed for supposedly fabricating torture scenes slated for a documentary.

Human Rights Watch stated that in the whole of last year, over 1,000 activists of the
Muslim Brotherhood had been arrested.

Abdel Monem Mahmoud, an apparent champion of free speech and blogger, reported having been tortured in 2003 while in Egyptian custody. A member of the Muslim Brotherhood, he encouraged others to use the internet as a tool against totalitarianim. Guess where he's been since May 2007? The infamous Tora Prison in Egypt.

In February of this year, after insulting King Mubarak on his blog,
Abdel Kareem Nabil, who attended reknown Al Azhar University, landed in jail where he is expected to serve for four years.

The latest victim if this very obvious crackdown, is none other than the very popular
Sandmonkey, whose blog most of us read and followed with great interest. Worst than being jailed, he just stopped posting after realizing that he might be under surveillance.

But isn't this Al Azhar University the seat for learning? And isn't learning about understanding, tolerance, opening minds, and forming future leaders? Damn it Egypt, you used to get it, but now, you really are acting stupid. Look what happens with your disenchanted youth, take someone like...Mohammed Atta!!?You really don't get it anymore. And I do wish that the US would get pissed enough to cancel the billions in aid they send you yearly.

Like in all the countries in the region, Egypt has embraced the stance of zero tolerance. Is it time to re-examine these policies, and perhaps come to the aid of those human rights groups which still exist within the country?

Friday, June 1, 2007

Agence France Presse : Ayman Nur’s Bid for Freedom Denied by Court

CAIRO, 1 June 2007 — An Egyptian court rejected yesterday a bid by opposition leader Ayman Nur to be released from prison on medical grounds, despite his claims that his health has worsened since he was jailed.

Judge Adel Abdul Salam Gomaa announced his decision without giving any explanation.

On May 22, an administrative court postponed a ruling on Nur, an insulin-dependant diabetic who has been held for more than a year, pending a medical examination.

Nur was jailed in December 2005, three months after coming a distant second in the country’s first ever multi-candidate presidential election, in which he mounted a daring campaign against veteran President Hosni Mubarak.

He is serving a five-year sentence for forging affidavits needed to set up his Ghad party.

Nur’s lawyer Amir Salem told AFP he was pursuing a dual track in his appeal. One was before the same court that convicted his client, the court of assizes, and another before the administrative court, which examines procedure, technicalities and constitutionality leading to convictions.

Salem said before the ruling that if it were positive, Nur “will get out in order to be treated, but he could be put back in jail at any time.” In the May 22 hearing, the judge announced that a committee of medical experts appointed by the Ministry of Justice would carry out further tests on Nur before giving its decision on June 12.

In February, a committee of government-appointed experts, made up of members of the medical profession and the prison authority, concluded he was fit enough to serve out his jail sentence.

But Nur appealed and has repeatedly claimed he was not receiving proper medical care in prison.

“I’m losing my eyesight, I have cardiac problems, I have terrible headaches and my bruises and wounds don’t heal,” he said in a January interview with AFP, showing two open wounds on his legs he said he suffered when he fell a month earlier.

Nur said he had gone from being a victim of “political assassination” to being subjected to “physical destruction,” insisting the regime wanted him to die behind bars.

Nur’s wife Gamila Ismail had said earlier yesterday that she was cautiously optimistic of a favorable verdict.

“Nothing is certain, nor does it offer enormous optimism, but this time I have brought my son to court and perhaps this time we will have good news,” she told AFP.

The United States was sharply critical of Nur’s arrest and has repeatedly called for his release.

Nur formed his party in October 2004 with a view to contesting the presidential polls, but he was swiftly stripped of his parliamentary immunity and charged with forging affidavits needed to set up the party. His January 2005 arrest prompted US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to cancel a trip to Egypt in protest, and US pressure eventually obtained Nur’s release on bail in March of that year, allowing him to run in the elections.