US ‘concerned’ over detention of opposition leader

US ‘concerned’ over detention of opposition leader

Washington expressed “serious concern” on Monday about the renewed detention of Ayman Nour, the Egyptian opposition leader and reform advocate who was distant runner-up to President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt’s first presidential elections in September.

Amir Salim, Mr Nour’s lawyer, said this was a sign the judge intended to convict Mr Nour and six co-defendants when their trial on forgery charges resumes next week.

Mr Nour faces a maximum sentence of 15 years for allegedly forging signatures necessary to win official approval in 2004 for his el Ghad (Tomorrow Party.) He insists the charges are fabricated and was only a day into his defence when jailed.

“This is the latest in a string of events that cause us serious concern about developments in Egypt, including reports of arrests of candidates and intimidation of voters in the recent parliamentary run-offs,” Greg Sullivan, a spokesman for the bureau of near eastern affairs at the State department in Washington said.

He added that Washington was in contact with the Egyptian authorities about the case and would be following it closely in the coming days.

Before this year, Mr Nour was little known outside parliament and his downtown Cairo constituency. But he rose to international prominence when he was jailed for six weeks earlier this year, just as Mr Mubarak was coming under pressure from Washington to ease decades of restrictions on political life.

Mr Nour’s detention also helped raise his profile at home ahead of Egypt’s first experiment with contested presidential elections in September in which he was runner-up with 7.6 per cent of the vote to Mr Mubarak’s 88 per cent.

But his career has been in free fall since. His el Ghad party has split, amid allegations of government infiltration. He also lost his parliamentary seat at the beginning of staggered legislative elections that end on Wednesday, amid allegations that 2000 names were added to the voter register to ensure victory for his ruling party opponent.

El Ghad’s dilemma has underlined the weakness of all secular opposition parties in Egypt, who face continuing restrictions on their activity at a time when society is polarising between the regime and its Islamist opponents.

By contrast the banned but tolerated Muslim Brotherhood has emerged from elections as a significant opposition block, despite clear attempts by the government to halt their momentum with force.

The Muslim Brotherhood is strongly anti-American, posing a dilemma for Washington as it attempts to shed a reputation for double standards in the Middle East.

Until now, Washington has said nothing about the hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood activists who have been detained during the elections.