Egyptian dissident, Nour, released from jail

Egyptian dissident, Nour, released from jail

Egypt”s leading dissident, his forehead singed from a recent attack, sits near a window in an armchair, depressed and wondering whether he was better off behind bars.


“I want to go back to jail,” says Ayman Nour, whom the government released from prison in February as a goodwill gesture to the Obama administration. “The government insists on getting the maximum benefit out of my liberation, but they are causing me the maximum harm.


“I am denied all rights. My party cannot return to the political scene. I am stalked by the police. They are even messing with my personal life. There is no ceiling to the injustice and the revenge of this regime.”


When President Obama steps to the podium in Cairo on Thursday, in what is expected to be a major address to the Muslim world, many will be listening for signs of ending the Arab-Israeli conflict. But others, like Nour and exiled Egyptian activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, will be looking for an aggressive U.S. approach to advance human rights.


Nour, who was imprisoned after he lost against President Hosni Mubarak in the 2005 elections, is the country”s most recognizable opposition figure. But thousands of activists, bloggers and members of the ( radical) [1]Muslim Brotherhood have been locked up during Mubarak”s 27 years in power on what human rights groups call scurrilous charges to prevent any challenge to the ruling National Democratic Party.


The question now is this: How will Obama, whose charisma and speeches have entranced the Arab world, balance America”s national interests against its calls for increased democracy in the Middle East? For decades, those matters have been at cross purposes, especially in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, two strategic U.S. allies whose regimes have stifled American ideals of democracy.


In Egypt, activists say Washington”s $1.2 billion in annual aid, most of it military, should be contingent on the Mubarak government granting wider political freedoms. Ibrahim argued this point and was sentenced to two years in prison for damaging Egypt”s reputation – a verdict that was overturned the last week of May in what commentators saw as another offering to Washington.


“Obama is the most respected American president outside the U.S. in almost a century,” Nour says. “He is different. He has a different skin and comes from a different culture. The Arab person finds him an inspiring model and hopes someone like him can reach power here the same way Obama did. … But so far, we can say that Obama has a confusing agenda as far as democracy in this region is concerned. If he gives up democratization, his work will be meaningless.”


Activists like Nour often shine for a moment, disappear in prison corridors and resurface to shine again; their resistance not sapping them but giving them vitality. But these days Nour has the aura of a man outflanked. He”s says he”ll run for president in 2011, even though the state forbids his candidacy. His party is divided, and although many Egyptians are unhappy with the nation”s course, they are unable to alter what they have lived with for so long.


Last week, Nour, whose closet of suits is as suave as his rhetoric, was riding in a car to a party meeting when a motorcycle pulled alongside. A man shot a stream of fire at him and sped away. Nour”s forehead, hair and clothes were slightly burned. He blames the regime or its cronies, but no one can really know. No arrests have been made.

[1] Muslim Brotherhood disagrees with radical concept. Many research institutions and think tanks recognize that they are moderate group, however.


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