Bush criticizes jailing of Egypt’s most prominent dissident

U.S. President George W. Bush criticism of jailed dissidents during a speech Tuesday in the Czech Republic cast a spotlight on Egypt’s most prominent opposition prisoner whose wife recently accused the U.S. of ignoring him in favor of winning Egyptian government support.

In his speech celebrating democracy’s progress around the globe but also called out places where its reach is either incomplete or lacking, Bush specifically named Ayman Nour among several dissidents from other countries _ including Cuba and Burma _ who are imprisoned.

«There are many other dissidents who could not join us because they are being unjustly imprisoned or held under house arrest. I look forward to the day when conferences like this one include … Ayman Nour of Egypt,» Bush said.

There was no immediate response from the Egyptian government on Bush’s speech.

Nour is serving a five-year prison sentence for allegedly forging signatures on petitions to register his political party. He challenged President Hosni Mubarak for the presidency in 2005, finishing a distant second in Egypt’s first contested presidential elections.

International rights groups and Western governments have rebuked Egypt for prosecuting him, adding weight to Nour’s charge that the trial was politically motivated _ an accusation Egypt denies.

Nour’s wife, Gamila Ismail, has been critical of the Bush’s administration recently, accusing it of turning a blind eye to her husband’s case in favor of winning Mubarak’s support.

In his speech, Bush also called on U.S. allies, specifically naming Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, to make more democratic progress, saying the U.S. will continue to press them to open up their political systems.

«Inevitably, this creates tension. But our relationships with these countries are broad enough and deep enough to bear it,» he said.

The U.S. was critical of Nour’s conviction earlier this year. But U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not mention Nour’s case to Mubarak during a March visit to Egypt. Instead, she praised the Egyptian leader for his support of U.S. Mideast policies.