- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2001

Egypt has just rewarded one of its own greatest advocates for democratic reform with a sentence of seven years in prison with hard labor. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a professor who holds both U.S. and Egyptian citizenships and who taught at the American University of Cairo, was convicted last week along with 27 colleagues. This sends a blatant message: Democracy fighters are not welcome in Egypt.

Mr. Ibrahim was formerly a scholar at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and has had a history of speaking out against rigged elections in Egypt and against human rights abuses against Coptic Christians. The 62-year old political scientist headed his own human rights organization, the Cairo-based Ibn Khaldun Center for Democracy, which was shut down by the Egyptian security police on June 30 last year. His center has been raided 20 times since then, his wife Barbara told this page in an interview.

The same day his center was shut down, 30 uniformed men with machine guns surrounded his house and took Mr. Ibrahim to jail. He was held in prison for 45 days for questioning, and then released. But last fall, just days after he gave a lecture about his case at the request of American University students and staff, he was charged with using foreign funds without authorization, of disseminating false information harmful to Egypt and of embezzlement, and convicted on all three counts. He was acquitted of one charge of bribery. During his trial and pre-trial questioning, the courts violated legal procedure, including interrogating witnesses without the presence of a lawyer, according to an Amnesty International report. In the trial before a three-judge panel of the Supreme State Security Court, Mr. Ibrahim was put in a tiny cage. The panel reached its sentence only 90 minutes after the defense had presented its arguments, and while it was still submitting briefs, the New York Times reported.

As far as Mr. Ibrahim´s alleged "crimes," the professor did accept $220,000 from the European Union for a voter awareness project. "The precedent which this case has now set would be to stop business transactions within the entire country. That´s why it´s so ludicrous that this would ever be allowed to stand. Every businessman in Egypt would be allowed to fear that his business contracts would land him in jail," Mrs. Ibrahim said.

Members of Congress have raised Mr. Ibrahim´s case with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, but Mr. Ibrahim is still in prison, as are 27 people associated with his center. The Egyptian court has 30 days to present its legal reasons for the convictions, and a retrial process is a possibility according to Egyptian law. The Bush administration and members of Congress should continue to raise the issue at the highest levels to ensure Mr. Ibrahim is freed. Egypt wanted to make itself a beacon of democracy in the Middle East. Its current treatment of its civil reformers shows that this is still just a dream.

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