Pro-democracy activist wins acquittal in Egypt

Highest court overturns 7-year prison term that rights groups had decried

March 19, 2003|By David Lamb | David Lamb,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

CAIRO, Egypt - Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a prominent pro-democracy activist, was acquitted by Egypt's highest court yesterday after a third trial on charges that he defamed the nation and embezzled funds. The court voided an earlier seven-year prison sentence.

Ibrahim, 64, who has U.S. and Egyptian citizenship and has taught at the University of California, Los Angeles and other U.S. universities, drew widespread support from human rights organizations after his arrest in June 2000 and his convictions in two previous trials, which were overturned on procedural grounds. Amnesty International called his arrest politically motivated and an attempt to thwart democratic reform.

The courtroom erupted in cheers when the judge announced the verdict of the latest trial. "Thank God! Thank God!" shouted Ibrahim, who had been free pending the retrial.

Minutes later, he took a phone call from U.S. Ambassador C. David Welch, who told him, "Saad, this is great day for you and your family. I am very happy."

Why Ibrahim was arrested remains something of a mystery. His positions on most issues did not much diverge from those of the Egyptian government. He favored peace with Israel, good relations with the United States, a secular state and free-market reform. He was critical of tight controls here on freedom of expression, but so are many educated Egyptians.

Ibrahim has told friends he thinks his problems stemmed from his decision to set up a committee to monitor parliamentary elections in 2000 and from reports published by the Ibn Khaldoun Center for Social Development Studies, which he ran. The reports accused the government of rigging elections in 1995.

David Lamb writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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