Court refuses to hear appeal of Ayman Nour, ex-challenger for presidency

The appeal court refused Thursday to hear the case of Ayman Nour, runner-up in last year’s presidential elections, effectively meaning that he will serve five years for forgery, a court official said.

The leader of Ayman Nour’s al-Ghad party, Nagi el-Ghatrifi, confirmed the ruling, saying it “reflects the Egyptian regime’s persistent rejection of any serious reform and its exploitation of the international community’s leniency with Egypt.”

Nour, 41, was convicted Dec. 24 of forging signatures on petitions to register al-Ghad as a party in 2004. He said he was prosecuted to eliminate him from politics, and his argument received wide support among human rights groups and major western newspapers.

Egypt’s prosecutor general has denied any political motivations, saying it was strictly a criminal case.

Nour was not in court to hear Thursday’s ruling. His wife, Gameela Ismail, said he would probably hear it on television in prison.

“This verdict proves for the 1,000th time that (President Hosni) Mubarak and his regime are controlling the judicial, executive and legislative authorities in Egypt – the bodies whose independence Nour was fighting for,” Gameela said.

Shortly after the verdict became known, a group of Nour supporters demonstrated in the street outside the al-Ghad Party offices, shouting insults against Mubarak and the government. Police arrested 14 protesters.

The proceedings against Nour affected Egypt’s relations with the United States. While Nour was detained for 42 days early last year, U.S. State Secretary Condoleezza Rice cancelled a visit to Egypt in what was seen as a protest. The State Department criticized the prosecution, saying it raised doubts about the sincerity of Mubarak’s pledge to open up the political system.

Nour challenged Mubarak in the September 2005 presidential elections, but finished a distant second in polls that were criticized as flawed and in which most voters stayed away.

El-Ghatrifi, who took over al-Ghad after Nour entered prison, said Thursday that the party would decide whether to appeal to a higher court after meeting with Nour’s lawyers.

It was not immediately clear what legal options were left. The appeal court judge said the ruling was final, and Nour’s wife said there was no further legal recourse.

“There is nothing we can do except to continue to struggle for reform with the rest of the national movement,” Gameela said, referring to other pro-democracy groups.

In November, Nour lost the parliamentary seat he had held for 10 years. He challenged the conduct of the poll, and claimed the government was punishing him for challenging Mubarak.

Last year’s presidential elections were the first in which Mubarak had allowed challengers to stand. Previously Egyptians had voted “yes” or “no” to one candidate nominated by the ruling party in parliament.

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