- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 6, 2000

Egypt has an unusual way of preparing for free and fair parliamentary elections. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, part of an election watchdog group, was arrested June 30, and he and at least three of his co-workers have been held in prison since then without having been formally charged with any crime. He has been accused, among other things, of accepting $220,000 from the European Union, without the Egyptian government's approval, to create a film on elections which prosecutors say accuses the government of vote-rigging in the past and thus damages national interests.

The State Department and members of Congress have expressed concern over the arrest and the U.S. Consulate is monitoring the treatment of Mr. Ibrahim, a Muslim who has dual nationality to Egypt and the United States.

"We've raised our grave concerns at the continued detention without charges," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said at a news briefing last week. "We've raised these concerns at every level of the Egyptian government."

Unfortunately, up to this point, though international attention has been credited with allowing Mr. Ibrahim to have special privileges, such as homemade meals and family visits, it has not resulted in his release.

Mr. Ibrahim, whose Cairo-based Ibn Khaldun Center conducts research on democracy and minority rights, had not even completed the 10-minute documentary yet when he was arrested in his home on June 30.

"They were uniformed and they were all carrying guns. They surrounded our house with machine guns, and then about 30 stormed into the house," his wife Barbara told this page in an interview. She based her remarks on the family guard's report. "When we tried to call state security that night they denied having him," said Mrs. Ibrahim, an American originally from Missouri who now has one residence in New York and one with her husband in Egypt. "They rounded up him and our computer and his personal papers. From one until 4:30 we had no idea where he was. We were calling him on his cell phone, and strange men were answering and telling us he was simply unavailable." Mr. Ibrahim's original 15-day detention has been extended two additional times, with his next possible release date set for Aug. 14.

Unfortunately during this time his lesser-known co-workers have not enjoyed the interest of U.S. officials. Mr. Ibrahim's assistant, Nadia Abdel Nur, was taken away in a car by a group of plainclothes policemen, who did not provide identification, as she left work, Mrs. Ibrahim said. Because of the manner in which she was taken, she thought she was about to be raped and resisted, resulting in bruises and abrasions from the ensuing scuffle. When she wouldn't give testimony to the investigators' liking, she was taken without a lawyer to a men's prison for additional questioning, but is now back in the women's prison.

With the parliamentary elections coming up in November, Egypt is doing its image more damage by keeping an elections monitor and his colleagues locked up than his film, made for local viewers, ever could have. Egypt has until Aug. 14 to come up with an official charge against Mr. Ibrahim and his co-workers. If he is convicted in the documentary dispute, he could serve up to 15 years in prison with hard labor, Reuters reported. From his jail cell the elections monitor would make quite a statement about Egypt's "free" elections.

Mr. Ibrahim and his wife say that they're sure his treatment does not represent the will of the majority of the Egyptian people or its government. The United States must continue to push Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak harder to prove them right.

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