Still a 'Fellow Dissident'?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Today, we repost an opinion piece by Egyptian professor and dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim that first appeared on our op-ed page one year ago. This month, Mr. Ibrahim was convicted of seditious libel or "tarnishing" the image of Egypt. For this transgression, the ailing, 69-year-old scholar was sentenced to two years in jail, with hard labor, and ordered to pay a fine equivalent to about $1,500. The prime piece of evidence against Mr. Ibrahim: The opinions he expressed in this newspaper.

Mr. Ibrahim, a dual Egyptian and American citizen, has for some time been living in exile in the Middle East and so may escape this sentence and other potentially draconian punishments. He is still subject to some 20 other legal actions brought against him by allies of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. He is accused, among other things, of grand treason, in part for organizing a forum for Arab democracy advocates and for meeting briefly with President Bush last year after a conference in Prague. A conviction on these charges could subject him to death by hanging.

The fact that Mr. Ibrahim faces imprisonment -- or worse -- if he sets foot in Egypt speaks to the tightening grip of tyranny in that country. It is also testament to the Bush administration's failure to hold Mr. Mubarak to his commitment to further freedom and democratic institutions there.

There was a time when President Bush spoke openly, eloquently and forcefully about his sense of solidarity with Mr. Ibrahim, so much so that the president referred to himself as a fellow dissident. There was a time, only a few years ago, when he withheld millions of dollars in aid to Egypt until the country released Mr. Ibrahim from an unjust incarceration. Now, the administration can only muster an official, feeble "expression of disappointment" through an organ of the State Department as it continues to funnel billions to Egypt, enabling Mr. Mubarak to run an increasingly repressive police state.

A strong relationship with Egypt and continuing financial assistance to the country are most likely in the interest of the United States. But the relationship need not be exclusively with a regime that is on the wrong side of history; the United States should support those many Egyptians who believe in reform. At the very least, it should not continue to freely subsidize a regime that abuses its bravest citizens. Or, as Mr. Ibrahim succinctly put it in an interview this week: "Don't give dictators money to oppress us."

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