Middle East

Egypt: Cairo Kangaroo Court

Saad Eddine Ibrahim stands behind bars during his trial in a Cairo court (Photo: AFP).

Egypt’s jailing of American-Egyptian civil-society activist Saad Eddine Ibrahim triggered condemnation from Western governments, international media, and human-rights groups, but the Egyptian press showed little sympathy for the 62-year-old academic’s plight.

On May 21, the Supreme State Security Court in Cairo found Ibrahim and 27 colleagues at the Ibn Khaldun Research Center guilty of a variety of charges including taking unauthorized foreign funds, issuing false reports, and attempted embezzlement, reported Nadia Abu El-Magd in Cairo’s semi-official Al-Ahram Weekly (May 31-June 6). Ibrahim received a seven-year prison term and was taken to jail, as were seven of his co-defendants.

Ibrahim’s supporters have called the trial a political charade, designed to punish him for his work that included election-monitoring and activism on behalf of the rights of Egypt’s Christian minority—sensitive topics in Egypt. Similar protests appeared in the Arab media. Syndicated Jordanian columnist Rami Khouri, writing in Beirut’s Daily Star (May 31), said the case “has more holes than Swiss cheese, and more questions than a year’s worth of Jeopardy games.” He added that “Egypt’s reputation may be severely tarnished by what appears to many of us to be the intellectual hooliganism and the mockery of accepted international judicial standards that are a hallmark of this trial.”

In a similar vein, Jordan’s conservative columnist Fahd Fanek (May 31) defended Ibrahim in Amman’s pro-government Al-Rai. “Saad Eddine Ibrahim is not a terrorist and never practiced anything resembling violence whether in word or deed....He is one of a kind that believes in democracy, pluralism, freedom, and civil society.” Fanek called on the Egyptian authorities to free Ibrahim so that the country can “save what is left of its reputation.”

The Egyptian press was less forthcoming in its support. The state-run Middle East News Agency (MENA) launched a fiery salvo on May 26, dismissing the international outcry against the verdict as emanating from “Jewish and Zionist circles.” Apparently seeking to tap into local sentiment, MENA alleged that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon lodged an official protest—something the Israeli Embassy in Cairo denied, according to Al-Ahram Weekly.

In a parting shot at the U.S. media that had referred to Ibrahim as an admirable American, MENA stated that “the simple fact is that if Americans consider him an American hero, he is definitely not at all an Egyptian hero.”

Samir Raghab, editor in chief of the state-owned Al-Gumhuriya (June 4) and reportedly President Hosni Mubarak’s favorite journalist, noted that Ibrahim actually got off easy, considering that the sentence for treason is “execution by hanging instead of seven years,” while Egyptian columnist Galal Dweidar in the state-owned Al-Akhbar (May 29) called on Arab writers to cease their support for Ibrahim: “I appeal to those well-intentioned pens...not to be driven after such absurdity, which might get them in the trap of those collaborators with Israel and Zionism.” Nevertheless, some observers in the Arab press regarded the failure of the Egyptian press and intellectuals to contest the Ibrahim verdict as a dangerous development. Sudanese columnist Abdel Wahab Effendi, writing in the London-based, Palestinian expatriate Al-Quds al-Arabi (May 29), said, “The silence by the intellectual elite in Egypt and their entering the tunnel of official justification is a kind of political and moral suicide.”
December 2001 (VOL. 48, No. 12)Overline Overline Overline OverlineHeadline Headline Headline HeadlineName
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