Washington — Leading pro-democracy activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim was on Saturday sentenced in absentia by an Egyptian court to two years in prison on charges of “tarnishing Egypt’s reputation.” The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) condemns what has been an extended campaign to silence and demonize Ibrahim for exercising his right to criticize the Egyptian regime for its increasingly repressive practices.
In 2001, Ibrahim was sentenced to prison for seven years. After winning an appeal, he was released in 2003 after spending 10 months in jail. The 69-year old Egyptian-American professor has been an outspoken critic of the Egyptian regime’s repressive practices. Ibrahim has been a leading voice for political change, raising awareness about human rights abuses, calling for free and fair elections, and working toward increased cooperation between secular and Islamist opposition groups. POMED is proud to have Ibrahim on its Board of Advisors.
The court cited Ibrahim’s articles in the Western press, which include an op-ed in the Washington Post where he suggested that U.S. aid to Egypt be conditioned on political reform. The court’s case — and now its verdict — is a clear attack on the right to free speech, and renders any criticism of Egypt’s undemocratic behavior a potential cause for imprisonment. This will only heighten the prevailing culture of fear in Egypt.
POMED is heartened by the response of the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, who labeled the verdict a “shame.” More, however, needs to be done. POMED calls on the State Department to take clear steps to highlight its displeasure with the Egyptian government and work toward a positive resolution of Ibrahim’s case, respecting and upholding his right to a fair appeal.
“Dr. Ibrahim has been a steadfast supporter of democratic reform, and has worked tirelessly to enhance freedoms and protect human rights in his own country and throughout the Middle East,” said Andrew Albertson, POMED’s Executive Director. “The verdict is stark a reminder that the U.S. and international community can ill afford to turn a blind eye to a deteriorating political situation in Egypt. If an Egyptian-American cannot speak openly about the terms of the U.S. partnership with Egypt, then it calls into question the basic nature of that relationship.”
Egypt is the world’s second-largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, receiving $1.7 billion annually, with more than three-quarters of that amount going to military aid. But Egypt’s human rights record has spurred increasing concern within Congress. Last year, Congress made $100 million in military assistance to Egypt conditional on curbing police abuses, reforming the judiciary, and destroying smuggling tunnels to Gaza. However, the act also included a clause allowing the Secretary of State to waive these conditions, which Secretary Rice exercised in March.