Egypt’s Ayman Nour Expects Prison “At Any Moment”

When Egypt’s presidential runner-up Ayman Nur heads to court Sunday, he will take his prison bundle with him, expecting the final nail in the coffin of his challenge to the regime of arch foe President Hosni Mubarak.

“I’ll be going with my personal effects, (as) I have done for several days. I’m expecting to be jailed any moment,” Nur told News Agencies in an interview.

“My wife knows exactly what to put in the bag: a small blanket and pillow, underwear, medicines and large quantities of cigarettes which are the only currency in prison,” he said.
On Sunday, the 41-year-old lawyer returns to the dock to answer charges of forging affidavits for the creation of his Ghad (Tomorrow) party, a trial he says was trumped up to torpedo his political career.

“They will have done absolutely everything to crush and condemn the one who dared to compete with the father and the son,” he said, referring to Mubarak and his son Gamal, the heir apparent.

Nur first rose to prominence in January as a young opposition lawyer whose six-week remand in custody prompted US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to cancel a trip to Egypt.

Once freed, Nur gave his all in the country’s first pluralist presidential election last September, emerging as the only serious challenger after a feisty campaign against Mubarak’s 24-year-old grip on power.

But the Ghad party leader’s downfall was just as swift.

Nur talks about his “political assassination” with the curdled smile of a candid first-timer who was conned at the gambling table, his gaze lost in what could have been.

“The way all our MPs were excluded from parliament is scandalous. A decision was taken at the highest level that Ghad would not win a single seat,” he said.

In the month-long parliamentary elections that are coming to a close on Wednesday, Nur’s faction looks set to be demoted from the largest legal opposition bloc by losing all seven MPs it had in the People’s Assembly.

Nur himself lost in his own Bab al-Shaaria stronghold in the first round.

“They announced my defeat on public television half an hour before the counting had even started,” he said.

To compound his humiliation, the only victorious MP running under the Ghad banner in the fifth of the polls’ six rounds belongs to a dissident faction that spelled the fledgling party’s doom before the elections.

The limelight has since shifted to the Muslim Brotherhood, which shocked the country by increasing its seat tally fivefold after only two out of three election rounds.

Nur finds the rise of the Islamists a bit hard to swallow.

“We are going to get a bunch of philistines, enslaved to their ideologies and with little political know-how… The street is with the Brothers right now. People like winners but they don’t understand,” he said.

Nur acknowledges the officially banned Brotherhood has shown remarkable savvy in its campaign but charges that their slogan “Islam is the solution” conceals an empty programme and an inability to run the country day to day.

“I want to know how they would use the country’s budget. I want to know what they plan to do to my wife who doesn’t wear the veil,” he said.

Nur also feels abandoned by Washington.

“The US was very positive when I was detained, then Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif — in other words Gamal — went to Washington in May. Then I felt further estrangement after Egypt cut a deal with Israel over the Gaza border,” he said.

Nur accuses the US administration of betraying its pledge to favour democracy over stability in the Middle East.

His bravado doused by the chain of events of the past two months, Nur — who formerly used to support Mubarak when deemed useful to his career — feels downtrodden by the regime.

But the charismatic lawyer still comes alive when pleading in court.

“The headline I chose for the latest edition of my (weekly) newspaper was ’The assassination of Ayman Nur’, but after pleading on Tuesday I felt I wasn’t quite dead yet and I asked the staff to change it.”

But the Al-Ghad staff forgot to remove the sombre column printed under it, titled “The will of the hanged man.”

News Agencies