Saturday, December 24, 2005

Ayman Nour sentenced to five years in jail

As expected, an Egyptian court convicted Ayman Nour of charges related to his party's political activities and sentenced him to five years in jail. Many human rights activists believe these charges were politically motivated. The U.S. government expressed its concern over the trial and the sentence. Nour, who is diabetic, could face a difficult imprisonment and an end of his political career just months after he came in second place in the presidential election.

Since I mentioned how American media were avoiding the Ayman Nour trial, I should credit the excellent Washington Post editorial on the trial yesterday. It's a strong piece, stating that the trial is a test case for the development of Egyptian democracy.

I disagree with the editorial in the sense that the damage by the trial has already been made. Nour could walk away a free man, and we should hope he will, but that will not be a positive sign for Egyptian democracy because the trial has already served the purpose of building a significant obstacle to political opposition to the ruling elite.

Why that is is made clear in today's Post, in an op-ed piece by noted Egyptian journalist Hala Mustafa of the Al-Ahram Foundation. Mustafa discusses how the Egyptian security forces control the politics of the NDP and much of the media and through this control have consistently thwarted any efforts to bring true democracy to the country. I encourage everyone to read the piece. It is another sign of the aspirations of the true democrats in the country and the obstacles they face in achieving their goals.

One note I would add to Mustafa's piece: He mentions how the security forces selected many of the NDP candidates. He doesn't, presumably because of space limitations, go into the successes the security forces had in defeating the legitimate, secular opposition candidates, such as Ayman Nour, as well as "reformist" candidates within the NDP. The defeat of Nour and other opponents can be directly related not to the degree of support he and others had but to the sheer size of the campaign launched against him by the security-controlled media and political system. Likewise the lack of this government-support doomed the so-called reformist wing of the NDP allegedly tied to Gamal Mubarak.

And of course, when this effort opened the door to the success of the Muslim Brothers, the security forces launched their well-documented assault on them as well.

All this actually supports Mustafa's thesis: There are strong voices for Egyptian democracy in the country, voices that speak from a wide range of opinions. Some of these voices actually exist within the government. The security wing of the Egyptian government is stubborn in its resistence to change. The attacks on Nour show the degree to which they are willing to silence the political opposition. Their aim is to make it seem like the choice is between the NDP and the Muslim Brothers.


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