A court on Wednesday postponed the forgery trial of Egypt's most prominent opposition presidential candidate until late September, almost certainly after the country's first contested national election.
Ayman Nour and his attorneys said they were unhappy with the postponement until Sept. 25. No election date has been set, but political analysts here say the vote almost certainly will be held by mid-September.
"They want me to go into the elections burdened with this case, and don't want me to be found innocent before the elections," Nour said. "That would be great publicity for me and embarrassment to the regime."
For the government of President Hosni Mubarak, his likely rival, a postponement means avoiding, for now, a trial that became embarrassing last week when a key witness recanted.
Egypt's prosecutor-general has classified this as a criminal, and not a political, case. Egypt's government has said the country's judiciary is independent and not subject to political pressure.
Nour's arrest on Jan. 29 and his detention for 42 days without charges strained Egypt's relations with the United States. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice canceled a visit in March, and when she eventually came in June, she met with Nour and other opposition figures.
The United States has announced that it is following the trial closely. Egypt's pro-government news media has cited U.S. pressure as proof that Nour is an "American agent."
As Nour entered the courtroom Wednesday, some in the crowd shouted: "Go out, you American agent." Nour's supporters shouted back: "Here comes the honest one" and "Mubarak, round up your dogs."
Mubarak, 77, has been in power since 1981. He has not yet announced whether he will run for a fifth six-year term but is widely expected in Egypt to do so. He won his four previous terms unopposed, in straight yes-or-no referendums.
Nour, 40, who was not widely known in Egypt until his arrest, announced his presidential bid while still in jail earlier this year, shortly after Mubarak announced a constitutional amendment allowing the contested election.
Nour has pleaded not guilty to forging signatures to get his Tomorrow Party officially registered last year. His co-defendants said Nour ordered them to commit the forgery, but Nour has said he does not even know them.
One defendant recanted his testimony during Wednesday's court session. The witness, Ayman Ismael Refai, threw the trial into turmoil last week when he blurted out in court that he wanted to withdraw his accusations. The chief judge stormed out of the courtroom and adjourned the session before Refai could explain -- but he later told journalists that security forces had threatened to harm his young nieces if he didn't implicate Nour.
On Wednesday, the judge gave Refai a chance to speak, and his allegations were recorded in the court's documents. Refai's attorney then demanded the judges "protect his client from those who forced him to confess."