Democracy activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim has been sentenced in absentia by an Egyptian court to two years in prison for allegedly "harming Egypt's reputation." Mr. Ibrahim's conviction reportedly came in response to articles he published in the foreign press, concerning human rights abuses by the Egyptian government and urging the United States to link its bilateral aid to Egypt to democratic reforms there.
In a statement issued August 4th, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos expressed the U.S. government's disappointment over the conviction. Referring to criminal libel lawsuits used by Egyptian authorities to prosecute writers like Mr. Ibrahim, Mr. Gallegos said, "lawsuits should not be used to undermine the principles of freedom of expression." Mr. Gallegos said the U.S. strongly advocates, in all countries, the protection of civil and political rights, including freedom of speech and due process.
Born in Mansoura, Egypt, Saad Eddin Ibrahim is a sociologist, author, and a leading human rights and democracy activist. A former professor at the American University in Cairo, he founded both the Ibn Khaldoun Center for Development Studies and the Arab Organization for Human Rights. He holds both Egyptian and U.S. citizenship. In 2002, he was sentenced to seven years in prison for alleged embezzlement, receiving foreign funds without authorization, and the all-purpose charge of "tarnishing Egypt's image." After ten months in prison, he was released and cleared of all charges. He is currently living in the United States and remains active in the Middle East democracy movement.
In an editorial in the Daily News Egypt, Rania Al Malky noted that by prosecuting Mr. Ibrahim, the Egyptian government is harming itself. "If the authorities had deliberately wanted to 'tarnish Egypt's image' they couldn't have done a more stellar job," wrote Mr. Al Malky.
In response to extremists and advocates of authoritarianism, Mr. Ibrahim has insisted that true Islam is fully compatible with democracy. True democracy cannot flourish where freedom of speech and the press are denied. The U.S. urges Egyptian authorities to respect the difference between violent extremists, who seek to overthrow Egypt's government, and reformers, like Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who seek to strengthen Egyptian democracy through peaceful, legitimate, political dissent.