Magazine article UNESCO Courier

No Apologies. (2. Power Traps)

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

No Apologies. (2. Power Traps)

Article excerpt

Since Last May, a distinguished Egyptian sociologist has been in prison, allegedly for tarnishing the state's reputation. His case stands as a warning to fellow intellectuals

When sociologist Saadeddin Ibrahim was sentenced to seven years in prison in May 2001, a round of shock reverberated through Egyptian civil society.

The government has always upheld its right to suppress political Islamists even as they appease social conservatives by cracking down on the heterodox fringe. Ibrahim, 63, did not fit either of these extremes. An internationally respected scholar, his seminal research on the social origins of militant Isalmist groups appears to have had a major impact on the government's strategy for fighting them. In the 1990s, the sociologist was given a prime-time TV spot to address the nation on confronting extremism. He had close ties to the first lady, Suzanne Mubarak, and wrote articles in the state-owned press.

Unlike many state-sponsored scholars, however, Ibrahim never tempered his views on the regime. He openly discussed the problems of Egypt's Christian "minority" (the very use of that word violates nationalist taboos because the Egyptian state considers the Copts an integrated part of the nation) and was critical of the Arab world's lack of democracy. One theory attributes his downfall to his coining of the word "Gomlukiya" (Republarchy) to refer to Arab states where the presidency is handed from father to son.

In May 2000, Ibrahim's Ibn Khaldoun Centre for Development Studies was raided. He and 27 of his colleagues were arrested and eventually charged with "tarnishing the reputation of the state" and "accepting foreign funding without permission" as well as embezzling money from his donors and bribing state television officials. The investigators showed particular interest in a programme to monitor parliamentary elections scheduled that fall.

Ibrahim was given one final chance. In September 2000, according to one of his lawyers, he was released on the understanding that if he kept quiet, the charges would be dropped. Instead, he continued to speak out about his case and announced that he would continue to monitor the elections. …

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