Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Verdict Raises Concerns about Egypt's Civil Liberties ; on Monday, a Prominent Egyptian Democracy Activist Was Sentenced to Prison

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Verdict Raises Concerns about Egypt's Civil Liberties ; on Monday, a Prominent Egyptian Democracy Activist Was Sentenced to Prison

Article excerpt

Most Egyptians were used to seeing prominent sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim speaking on academic panels, commenting from behind a cluttered desk, or lecturing to classes of university students. So it seemed incongruous to see him peering out from the metal defendants cage of an Egyptian state security court.

In a trial accused of violating international justice standards, the outspoken democracy activist was sentenced on Tuesday to seven years in prison for defaming Egypt, illegally accepting foreign money, and embezzling donated funds.

The six-month trial is seen as part of a government effort to crack down on civil liberties. After the verdict, political analysts, diplomats, and rights activists expressed concern that it would chill democracy and human rights here.

"It will generate a wave of fear among some of the finest intellectuals, lecturers, and activists in the country," says Mohamed El Sayed Said, deputy director of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. "It's so brutal. I really don't understand it."

Mr. Ibrahim, who holds joint Egyptian and US citizenship, was arrested June 28 and held without charges for 42 days. At the sentencing Monday, he and 27 other defendants - many of whom were researchers at his democracy think tank - were sentenced to one to seven years in prison.

A sociology professor at the American University in Cairo for 25 years, Ibrahim was director of the Ibn Khaldun Center. He consulted for international organizations, including the United Nations and the World Bank, and even served as an Egyptian government adviser. Prominent in American and Arab academic circles, he also wrote or edited 30 books in English and Arabic.

Ibrahim was found guilty of illegally receiving funds to monitor parliamentary elections, and defaming Egypt in reports on relations between the country's Coptic Christian minority and its Muslims.

Analysts say the government may have wanted to prevent the Ibn Khaldun Center from monitoring last November's parliamentary elections. Others believe the arrest was precipitated by an article Ibrahim wrote in the Saudi magazine Al Majala about Arab leaders' grooming their sons for succession, mentioning Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as one of those leaders. …

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