Thursday, October 12, 2006

The army goes after a famous name

Talaat Sadat may be a member of the parliament and he may be a member of the Egyptian parliament, but that isn't stopping the Egyptian military from threatening him with jail for speaking his mind.

According to news reports
, Sadat this week was stripped of his parlimentary immunity, a step that Ayman Nour and others can tell him usually leads to criminal prosecution. His crime is speaking publicly about his belief that members of the Egyptian military were involved in the assassination of his uncle, who was killed in 1981 while reviewing a military parade.

Sadat is a controversial figure, who has pointed blame not just as the Egyptian military but several other governments. So he's on the edge of Egyptian politics. And there is reason to believe that the main Egyptian military officials weren't involved in the assassination since many of them were standing next to Sadat at the time. None of this really matters. The bottom line is that anytime someone steps out of the narrow realm of accepted political discourse, the powers that be come after him or her.

There's no denying that Egypt has a more vigorous political environment than many other countries of the region. This is testament to the true spirit of the place and the people. The Sadat assassination set in motion a number of government powers under the State of Emergency that for a time and on the surface were very successful in combatting a very real armed threat. The problem was once those powers were unleashed, soon they were turned on others: intellectuals, political opponents, women's groups, homosexuals, religious minorities, university professors and of course members of parliament. It was not just the targeted groups that suffered: It was Egypt.

And of course, that is a lesson that should not be lost on Americans.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Egyptians Abroad: Human Rights Abuses of Traveling Egyptians

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights has updated two old reports with new material, bringing welcome attention to the fact that Egyptians can find their rights oppressed abroad as well as in Egypt. The report, "Egyptians Abroad: Lost Rights at Home and Abroad," focuses on the large number of cases in which Egyptians face unfair laws or an inability to get justice, particularly in the Gulf states. This is a long standing problem, one addressed often by Amnesty International.

What's new in this report is the growing concern about prison conditions Egyptians face abroad, including in the United States. While obviously the main problems rest abroad, the EOHR says the Egyptian government is also to blame: "From the events that took place, many Egyptians are evidently in Arab and foreign prisons, and they are kept inside the prisons detained with inhuman treatment. The main reason is that Egyptian embassies ignore their presence and do not intervene rapidly and effectively to protect them from prison and the loss of their rights, beside that many of them face murder or stealing," the report said.

The report cites several examples. One is of Mohamed Farag Ahmed Nada, who appears to be caught in no man's land in the Egyptian and Saudi legal systems. The Saudi's arrested him on the basis of an Egyptian Interpol request, the EOHR says, but then that decision was reversed. The Saudi's didn't release him, and the Egyptian's came back with another request. No trial has been held, no charges formally made, but Mohamed Farag Ahmed Nada remains in Saudi detention for the past two years.

Several cases involved the United States: Nabil Ahmed Ahmed Algendy worked in the U.S. since 1979, married and had a son. After 9/11, he found himself arrested and set for deportation. He has been held detained for three years while the order works its way through the court system. He is currently being held in Huston County Prison in New York.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Attack on Freedom of Press in Egypt

One of the continuing areas of concern is a case against Ibrahim Essa, chief editor of the independent newspaper Al-Dostour. Essa is facing a sentence of one year in jail for running an article in which an Egyptian lawyer discussed his lawsuit against President Hosni Mubarak. Here's some more background to the case, as cited by HRInfo, an independent news agencey.

The good news is this week a court of appeals in Giza has agreed to review the case against Essa. One of the things that is interesting about his case is that the criminal charge brought against Essa and his colleagues, the one that left him with the jail term hanging over his head, was instigated not by the Mubarak government but by public citizens -- some lawyers and others -- with no direct connection to the case. It's an example of citizens themselves creating a chilling environment for free speech. Of course it's entirely possible that these "private" citizens were working at the request of government officials; nevertheless it is a reminder that some of the threats to free speech exist outside of governments.

In general, there is concern that the Mubarak government is ratching up the pressure on the media. The government controls much of the main media sources, but there is still room for independent voices to be heard. Looking at the big picturethe Essa case and a new press law indicates that as the pressure increases on those voices, more voices are pushing back. Here's a good report from the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights on the difficulties Egyptian journalists face and how some of them are managing to challenge the authorities to do their job.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Ayman Nour to be freed?

There's potentially good news on the Ayman Nour front. Al-Ahram, one of the government's main mouthpieces, ran a report yesterday stating that Ayman Nour, jailed leader of the al-Ghad party, is scheduled to be examined by a medical team today, something that could lead to a presidential pardon.

Here's a link to the story.

I have two thoughts on this, one positive and one not so. The good news is Ayman Nour may get out of jail. His detention, I believe, has been politically motivated, his trial unfair. All of it has been part of the message from the Mubarak government to all hopeful reformers that change is going to be slow and limited.

The second not so hopeful message is that if Nour is released, it is because the government believes his detention has served its purpose of silencing and breaking a popular opponent. In short, he is not longer a challenge to them. During his trial and detention, Nour suffered not just from the legal proceedings but from a vicious campaign led by government-controlled media sources to portray him as a fraud, someone dependent upon Western support, someone alien to Egypt and Egypt politics. Inevitably the attention his campaign received from the West also brought him problems from his natural allies in the diverse opposition movement. As with Saad Ibrahim, the government has successfully been able to split off a prominent political challenger from the public and from normal sources of support. It's ugly, but it's been effective. Upon release, it may be difficult for Ayman to return to his previous level of effectiveness.

I'm hoping I'm wrong and the Egyptian government is making no such calculations but has actually come to see the error of this trial. Let's hope Ayman Nour is released from jail and he is able to pick up his campaign where it was left before his trial.