- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 19, 2003

ATLANTA — Egyptian democracy advocate Saad Eddin Ibrahim, recently freed from an Egyptian jail as a result of U.S. pressure, told an American audience yesterday he appreciated the help but that it had made his job tougher.

The Bush administration “gave my government and demagogues cards to play that painted me as an American agent,” Mr. Ibrahim said during a session with reporters at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting in Atlanta.

“They said, ‘Look, here’s a country that’s sacrificing its geopolitical interests for this man. Why?’ The immediate impact was negative, but the long-term effect was that it reinforced the agenda we were fighting for and that is now the global agenda in the Middle East.”

The fact that democracy is being pushed in Iraq by so-called neo-conservatives in the Bush administration “who are not known as champions of human rights” just shows that international politics makes strange bedfellows, Mr. Ibrahim said.

Mr. Ibrahim, 64, is a sociology professor at the American University in Cairo and director of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. He and 27 colleagues were arrested in the summer of 2000 on a variety of charges, including defaming Egypt and receiving unauthorized foreign funding for their work.

His arrest at gunpoint was “movielike,” he said, a scene made all the more dramatic by the large number of soldiers who whisked him away “in the longest motorcade I have ever had and probably will ever have.”

He said it was his peasant background that gave him the spiritual strength to withstand the shock and hardship of incarceration and the faith that he ultimately would prevail.

“I realized that I must be stronger than my oppressor if they have to mobilize all this to arrest one individual,” said Mr. Ibrahim, who is frail and walks with the help of cane. “They must be a very insecure state to marshal all these security forces to arrest an intellectual who had been conducting his public life very peacefully.”

After an Egyptian court handed Mr. Ibrahim two convictions and a seven-year prison sentence, the Bush administration threatened to withhold additional aid to Egypt in protest. Egypt’s highest court subsequently acquitted Mr. Ibrahim of all charges.

Mr. Ibrahim said his time in prison was a trying experience that showed him who his true friends and colleagues were.

He also said being linked to the United States has complicated his effort to spread democracy efforts in the Middle East because America is perceived in the region as resorting to “draconian” civil rights measures at home and “unprecedented arrogance abroad.”

But he said he will continue to fight for democracy and understanding in the Middle East because it will contribute to world security.

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