COLONEL MOHAMED el-Ghanam has a problem at Cairo airport. Each time he turns up for an international flight, his passport is stamped and then - in the final departure lounge - a squad of cops tell him he's not allowed to leave Egypt. First he was forbidden to go to Italy. Then, last month, the police refused to allow him to travel to Switzerland to plead his case for political asylum. But it was all done very politely - some of the officers had been the colonel's own students in the Cairo police academy. Colonel el- Ghanam, you see, was a senior official in the Egyptian Interior Ministry.
And when he starts talking - we met in the garden of the old Marriott hotel on the Nile - you can see why the government would like him to stay at home. Corruption, nepotism, fraudulent charges against Egyptian journalists, torture, violations of human rights. His list of state "crimes" is unending. So is his sense of persecution. "I get threats on the telephone and they tried to block my car and put something over the exhaust to suffocate me and my brother and then they burned the garden of my home."
And the colonel - he can still use his title although he was fired from the ministry last year - produces two colour snapshots of a Volkswagen with dents front and back. "Can you talk to Amnesty?" he asks. "I think people abroad may be my only salvation. At least I can thank the Centre for Religious Freedom in New York. They wrote to President Mubarak to express their concern about my case."
Colonel al-Ghanam holds a PhD in law from Rome University and published a book on "the law and terrorism" in 1991, a work which he says formed the basis of Egyptian legislation. He ran the police insurance fund and, far more importantly, was head of the Interior Ministry's legal department. "My problem with the Egyptian regime began in the middle of 1997 when the Interior minister, Hassan al- Alfi, began to make complaints about the Al-Shaab newspaper," he says. "I realised that the stories in the paper which al-Alfi complained about were about 80 per cent true and some of the charges against the journalists were false. It was a political conspiracy to put them in prison. I was not prepared to fabricate a crime and put innocent people in jail."
When he decided to be a witness for the defence, "mysterious things" began to happen. "There were voices on the telephone telling me to shut up, people approached me in the street and threatened me," he said. I might have regarded the colonel as a touch paranoid, were it not for the young men in shades who suddenly needed to …