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Friday, May 19, 2006

Egyptian Presidential Candidate Jailed for 5 Years

The Washington Post reports this morning that an Egyptian appellate court has upheld the fraud conviction of Ayman Nour, the candidate who challenged President Hosni Mubarak and his 25 years of one-man rule in elections last year, leaving his sentence of five years in prison intact.

According to the Post:
Nour was convicted in December of forging documents needed to legalize his Tomorrow Party, even though a government commission had approved the papers in October 2004 and a witness at his trial said he was tortured into testifying against Nour. The case attracted criticism from human rights groups as being politically motivated, and the State Department made the case a test of Mubarak's commitment to democracy. [But now that they failed the test, the State Department won't do anything about it. CiJ]

Egyptian police and prosecutors have recently launched an offensive against democracy activists on several fronts. At the same time a judge heard Nour's request for a retrial Thursday, a judicial committee reprimanded Judge Hesham Bastawisi for denouncing vote-rigging during elections last year but acquitted a less outspoken but nonetheless critical magistrate, Mahmoud Mekky.

Thousands of riot police in body armor and helmets sealed off parts of central Cairo to keep demonstrators from congregating near the courthouse where the hearings for Nour and the judges took place. At a nearby market, police pursued, clubbed and beat demonstrators gathered to support the judges. They arrested about 250 protesters, mostly members of the formally banned Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic political and social organization that has emerged as Egypt's only large and well-organized opposition force.


In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States was "deeply troubled" by Nour's case, calling it "both a miscarriage of justice by international standards and a setback for the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people."

"Both Mr. Nour's ongoing detention and the Egyptian government's handling of dissent raise serious concerns about the path to political reform and democracy in Egypt and are incongruous with the Egyptian government's professed commitment to increased political openness and dialogue within Egyptian society," McCormack said.

Nour finished a distant second in Egypt's first multiparty presidential election last September and incurred the wrath of officials by claiming fraud. His campaign, though it attracted only about 7 percent of the vote, was notable for its energetic effort to reach large numbers of Egyptians. The government occasionally sent out police and provocateurs to block Nour from reaching rallies in the countryside. Now, he will sit out his sentence in prison, where he has been tasked with carving frames for calendars as part of a labor regimen.


Protesters accused the United States of being soft on Mubarak. Last week, a day after Cairo police beat scores of demonstrators during a march in support of the judges, Gamal Mubarak, the president's son, secretly visited the White House. He was greeted by President Bush and met with Vice President Cheney, national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The meeting became public only because a reporter for al-Jazeera, the pan-Arab satellite television news channel, observed Mubarak entering the White House.


On Wednesday, C. David Welch, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, testified before a House International Relations subcommittee that Egypt is "a cornerstone of our foreign policy in the Middle East."

He called Mubarak's decision to hold multi-candidate presidential elections "a major step forward" and expressed opposition to calls from some members of Congress to use Washington's annual $2 billion in aid to Egypt as a lever to press reform. Paraphrasing Rice, he said, "We strongly believe that U.S. aid to Egypt should continue." He repeated that "the timing is not right" for free trade talks between Egypt and the United States, which were suspended after Nour was jailed.

He reiterated the administration's "deep disappointment" with the conduct of Egypt's parliamentary elections, as well as the original sentencing of Nour last year, the postponement of this year's scheduled municipal elections, extension of emergency laws that authorize open-ended detentions without trial, prosecution of "whistle-blower judges," violence against demonstrators and roundups of democracy activists.

But he also listed strategic benefits Egypt provides the United States, suggesting these trumped any dramatic moves to press for political reform. Among the advantages cited were Egypt's backing for U.S. efforts at the International Atomic Energy Agency against Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program and pressure on the Hamas-led Palestinian government to renounce violence against Israel.

Egypt is the third largest recipient of US foreign aid after Israel and Iraq.

Egypt's 'pressure' on Hamas to renounce violence against Israel does not include pressure on Hamas to recognize Israel's existence. Mubarak recently acknowledged in an interview that he has never pushed Hamas to recognize Israel.

Egypt has also recently arrested several reformist bloggers.

Read the whole thing.


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