A ’Dissident President’?

A ’Dissident President’?

WHEN HE met Egypt”s best known democracy advocate, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, at a conference in Prague in June, President Bush told him that he, too, felt like a dissident because of the State Department”s tenacious resistance to his “freedom agenda.” But Mr. Bush is not a real dissident. Consider: While Mr. Bush returned to the White House after the Prague meeting, Mr. Ibrahim has not yet returned to his home in Cairo — because he has been told that if he does, he will be arrested.

In the view of Egypt“s autocratic president, Hosni Mubarak, Mr. Ibrahim”s meeting with Mr. Bush is among several offenses that merit his renewed prosecution — the 68-year-old professor already spent the better part of three years in jail since 2000. Another was his organization in Doha, Qatar, of a conference of Arab democracy advocates, including a dozen Egyptians, a week before the Prague meeting. Then there was the vote by the House of Representatives to condition $200 million of the military aid Egypt receives every year from the United States on human rights reform and more aggressive policing of the border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Since he supports such conditionality, Mr. Ibrahim has been blamed for the congressional action. Finally, members of Mr. Mubarak”s ruling party have called for Mr. Ibrahim”s prosecution because of an article he published on the opposite page last month, in which he denounced a massive and accelerating crackdown on opposition activists in Egypt.

At least nine members of Mr. Mubarak”s party have filed lawsuits demanding that Mr. Ibrahim”s pro-democracy institute in Cairo, the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, be closed down and its leader tried for such “crimes” as slandering Egypt and insulting Islam. Already in poor health, Mr. Ibrahim has been effectively forced into exile; a return to prison would be a de facto death sentence.

It goes without saying that Mr. Bush has never suffered such hardships. But what really disqualifies the president as a dissident of any stripe is that his administration has abandoned its one-time support for Mr. Ibrahim and his agenda. In his first term Mr. Bush helped win Mr. Ibrahim”s freedom by linking $200 million in U.S. aid to his case; in 2005 Condoleezza Rice freed another Egyptian democrat, Ayman Nour, by ostentatiously canceling her first visit to Cairo as secretary of state. Now, the Bush administration is opposing the congressional attempt to condition Egypt”s aid. And though Mr. Nour is back in prison and Mr. Ibrahim in exile, Ms. Rice recently committed the United States to $13 billion in military aid to Egypt over the next decade, with no strings attached.

More aid to Egypt could be in the U.S. interest. But before delivering the next infusion of cash to Cairo”s strongman, you”d think a “dissident president” would, at least, demand that the real dissidents go free.