Letter from a Cairo Jail

Letter from a Cairo Jail

Writing from Tura Prison near Cairo, former Egyptian MP Ayman Nour pens a letter on the future of Egypt, the usefulness of Islamic fundamentalism in justifying authoritarianism, and the impact of the Iraq War on reformers in the Arab world.


“Although legitimate dreams usually turn to be terrifying nightmares in our country,” Nour writes, “the writer of those lines is a human being who dreams to reform his country.”


Dr. Nour addresses his letter to U.S. Senator Barack Obama. Previously Nour has sought and received support from the Bush administration, though not enough to free him. Global Integrity, of course, is a non-partisan organization.


Ayman Nour”s Letter to Senator Obama

Translated by Mohamed Abdel Aziz


Dear Senator:


I am writing these few lines while I am not confident whether they will reach you. I am writing to you from behind the bars of one of the oldest prisons in Egypt and the Middle East (Tura Prison). Although legitimate dreams usually turn to be terrifying nightmares in our country, the writer of those lines is a human being who dreams to reform his country


Dear Senator Obama,


– The writer of those lines is Dr. Ayman Nour


– Born on December 5th 1964


– Received his bachelor degree in law in 1985, and received his PHD in constitutional law in 1995.


I worked as attorney, journalist, and human rights activist. I founded the Egyptian organization for Human Rights, the first Egyptian organization to monitor human rights violations in Egypt.


I won the parliamentary elections in 1995 and became an MP, represented one of the most densely populated districts in Cairo. My membership in the parliament lasted for ten consecutive years until my detention in 2005.


In the year 2004 and after a persistent denial and refusal by the state, I managed to found the so called “The Liberal Tomorrow”s Party”


I was detained on my birth day (December 5th), after the end of the 2005 presidential elections.


Although the Egyptian law does only require the signature of 50 citizens in order to be able to register a political party, I was officially charged with forging documents to secure legal status for my newly established Party.


Despite the naivety of the charges, and the nullity of the legal procedures which violated my parliamentary immunity , the state has passed my case to the State Security Prosecution which was specialized in handling cases of political natures. The case was submitted to the same judge who previously condemned Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Chairman of Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, and other opposition figures. Unfortunately, I received a five-year hard labor imprisonment. The verdict also banned me from practicing any political or legislative profession for six years after the end of my incarceration period.


My real charge was that I spoke out in defense of political reform and change and posed a threat to the president who has been ruling Egypt for 27 years and who dreams of installing his son as his successor in a stringent defiance to the principle of rotation of power.


I was also charged by the state”s media of promoting the U.S reform agenda which intends to apply the Iraqi model to Egypt. Those charges were directed to me following the condemnation of the U.S administration, media and the Congress of the injustice and the maltreatment I have been subjected to.


• Your Excellency Senator Obama


My Real crime and that of the liberal Tomorrow”s Party, is that we have spoiled an old formula fabricated and promoted by the regime to convince the world that the current regime is the only alternative to religious movements in particular «Muslim Brotherhood».


The Party of Tomorrow has proven since its establishment in October 2004 that it could effectively function as a third civil, secular and liberal alternative to the current despotic regime and the Islamic movements. It could also serve as an alternative to the current fragile and domesticated opposition.


During the 18-day presidential campaign, the Party of Tomorrow had provided a model for an election campaign which was poorly financed but astonishingly succeeded in mobilizing the youth who displayed a high-level of commitment and enthusiasm to bring about real change.


• Your Excellency Senator Obama


What happened to me did not represent a violation against human rights or against me as a citizen or against my political party and its right to exist, but marked the death of the last civil and promising reform dream.


I admit that I did not feel solitude under the consistent support of the parliaments of the free world and the European Parliament which issued a strongly-worded decision in the year 2008 condemning the abuses I have been exposed to. I was also supported by the congress, the American administration and president Bush who made some reservations about my case in May 2007 in Prague and in May 2008 in Sharm el-Sheikh. I was also supported by the U.S Foreign Minister, Dr. Condoleezza Rice who made some reservations about my case during her visits to Cairo. However, the Egyptian regime has always demonstrated its ability to take advantage of the seasonal nature of foreign pressures, and its ability to maximize the fears of American and Western of the rise of the Islamic fundamentalists such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood to power.


• Your Excellency Senator Obama


I and my generation in Egypt and the Arab region consider you as a talented and inspiring model for our reform and change dream. We are a generations which hope to hear from you today and tomorrow, what renews hopes of freedom, justice and peace and eradicates the frustrations cultivated by the authoritarian regimes which managed to secure the support of the major powers through trading support of the values of freedom for interests.


• Your Excellency Senator Obama


Both Reform advocates and prisoners of opinion and conscience in Egypt, Syria, Palestine and other countries, are expecting your consistent support of their rights to life, freedom, and change. The prisoners of conscience in authoritarian countries are deprived of their basic human rights, and are subjected to the worst forms of physical and psychological abuses in the absence of law and justice. In an attempt to justify the assassination of the rights of innocent people and advocates of peaceful reform, the current authoritarian regimes are exploiting the incidents of Abu Ghraib what happened in other detention facilities located outside the U.S., as an example of a free country like the U.S that also commits human rights violations.


• Your Excellency Senator Obama


Your reference during Minnesota“s speech on June 4th 2008 to the seriousness of relying on and supporting the dictator states may be satisfactory but, it does not fulfill the ambition of Arab liberals especially in Egypt, Syria and Palestine, where the magnitude of the disaster is much bigger than in other Arab states.


I also may refer to some prominent activists in other Arab states who are now behind the bars and who may pay their lives as a price for their firm opposition; among them are some ex- parliamentarians and liberals in Syria who are affiliated with the National Council of the Damascus Declaration for Democratic Change. I may also mention the ex-parliamentarian Mr. Marwan Barghouti in Palestine who is currently detained in Israel. Barghouti could in fact play a major role in pushing for public consensus among the Palestinian movements.


As for the situation of Egypt, there are many persons affiliated with the Party of Tomorrow Party who have been detained under the emergency law during the strikes of April 6th 2008 in El Mahalla in addition to other members from Kafyia movement, El Krama Party, the Labor Party, and the banned Muslim Brotherhood organization.


In my point of view the sources of despotism in Egypt involve the following:


1- Article 76 of the Egyptian constitution which has been amended in the years 2005 and 2007, was mainly designed to restrict serious presidential candidates who pose a threat to the president and his successor.


2- Article 77, amended in 1980 and allowed the president to be re-elected for other terms.


3- The 2007 constitutional amendment which removed the judicial supervision over the elections and made it easier for the state to rig elections and fabricate the will of the people.


4- Breach of justice and lack of judicial independence.


5- State Monopoly over the audio and the visual media.


6- State control over the establishment of the new political parties and intervention in their internal affairs.


7- The persistence of the Emergency Law for 27 years and its exploitation as a tool to suppress political parties and freedom of assembly and expression.


8- Exploitation of the parliament and the judiciary to suppress and terrorize the opposition.


9- Legal and financial restrictions imposed on the civil society so as to restrict its impact.


10- Promoting hostility against reformers and labeling them as agents of foreign powers who attempt to promote Western agendas, whilst the regime itself attempts to maintain foreign support and cooperation.


• Your Excellency Senator Obama


As a democratic candidate and as a potential president, we expect you to lead the world towards real freedom and justice. All democratic movements and reformers in both Egypt and the Middle East hope that the 20th of Jan 2009 would be a day for freedom and democracy not only in the U.S but also everywhere around the world .


Best regards


Dr. Ayman Nour

Tura Prison — South Cairo