Egyptian Judge Sentences Exiled Dissident to Prison for Writings in 'Foreign Press'

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, August 3, 2008

CAIRO, Aug. 2 -- A prominent dissident who has urged the United States to tie financial aid to Egypt to democratic reform was sentenced to two years in prison Saturday.

The dissident, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, had harmed Egypt's reputation through his writings in the "foreign press," Judge Hisham Bashir ruled.

Ibrahim has been living in self-imposed exile since last summer, dividing his time between other Arab countries, the United States and Europe. He was not in court for the verdict.

In a telephone interview in June 2007, Ibrahim said he expected to be imprisoned if he ever returned to Egypt. Ibrahim, 69, said that his health had suffered from three previous stays in prison for criticizing President Hosni Mubarak's 27-year administration and that he did not want to put his family through the experience again.

The ruling Saturday did not specify which of Ibrahim's writings had been deemed damaging.

Ibrahim wrote an August 2007 opinion column for The Washington Post faulting the United States for continuing $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt despite the country's growing record of torturing and imprisoning democracy advocates.

Ibrahim wrote that Mubarak's government was manipulating the country's status as a signatory to peace deals with Israel, as well as U.S. fears of Islamist extremism, to keep U.S. aid flowing.

"My real crime is speaking out in defense of the democratic governance Egyptians deserve," Ibrahim wrote.

In May 2007, Ibrahim met briefly with President Bush in Prague, urging him to withhold U.S. aid until Mubarak's government freed a former presidential candidate, Ayman Nour, and moved the country toward democracy. Nour remains in prison.

In March, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice overrode a recommendation by Congress to withhold $100 million in U.S. aid to Egypt until the country improved its human rights record and strengthened measures against arms-smuggling to the Gaza Strip.

Current and past leaders in Egypt's governing political party had brought the charges against Ibrahim.

Bashir ruled Saturday that Ibrahim could post a bond of about $1,900 to remain free pending an appeal, Egypt's state news agency said.

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