Sunday, February 22, 2009

Freed Egyptian Dissident Vows to Fight Mubarak Son’s Succession

By Emad Mekay

Feb. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Ayman Nour, a prominent Egyptian dissident freed from jail yesterday, spoke out in his first press conference against the possibility that aging president Hosni Mubarak will name his own son, Gamal, as his successor.

Before Nour was jailed in late 2005, he ran a vigorous presidential election campaign against Mubarak, 80, and criticized the creation of what he said was a dynasty. Egyptian politicians have long speculated that Gamal would be named president when his father left the scene.

“I am against bequeathing the presidency,” Nour said at his party’s downtown Cairo headquarters today. “I was against it before and I will remain against it.”

In presidential elections in 2005, Nour won only 7 percent of the vote to Mubarak’s 88 percent with the rest scattered among other candidates. His campaign was a novelty for Egypt and seemed to herald a new era of political competition.

Instead, the success of the banned Muslim Brotherhood Islamic party in parliamentary elections the same year set off a steady rollback of freedoms by Mubarak. Dissident judges were disbarred, newspaper editors prosecuted, bloggers jailed, strikes broken up by police and street demonstrations suppressed. The government also put new rules in place to limit competition in future presidential and parliamentary votes.

Fraud Charges

Today, Nour vowed to resume his political career which was truncated by charges of fraud. Human Rights Watch, the New York- based monitoring group, called the accusations against Nour “trumped up.” In a statement, HRW urged Mubarak today to free “all peaceful dissidents.”

Under Egyptian law, Nour, 44, cannot seek public office unless he receives a pardon. Nour suffers from diabetes and was released on health grounds. A lawyer by profession, Nour said he will challenge his 2005 verdict. Asked if he will compete against Mubarak again in the 2011 presidential race, he replied, “We are still way before that time.”

Nour said he made no deal with the government for his release. He said he was treated “roughly and violently” during his imprisonment. He displayed a finger-nail size piece of paper on which he said he used to spend hours to write newspaper columns he smuggled out of jail. He said guards prevented him from praying at the prison mosque.

Under the former Bush administration, U.S. Secretary of StateCondoleezza Rice made numerous appeals to Mubarak to free Nour without success. Her successor, Hillary Clinton, is scheduled to visit Sharm el-Sheikh on March 2. Nour’s wife, Gamila Ismael, who tried to keep Nour’s Ghad Party together in his absence, declined to speculate on why he was freed with still about a year left in his sentence.

Nour said he didn’t know if U.S. pressure had done any good. In any case, he added, “American intervention was very late.”

To contact the reporter responsible for this story: Emad Mekay at

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