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March 6, 2005
Ayman Nour: Did I Take Democracy Too Seriously?

When Egyptian democracy activist Ayman Nour was imprisoned by the Mubarak regime, it resulted in an unusually harsh rebuke from Secretary of State Condi Rice, who cancelled a planned meeting with Hosni Mubarak. In response, Mubarak surprisingly announced that Egypt would allow multiparty elections for president, promising free and open elections for the first time in decades, if ever.

And yet, Ayman Nour remains in prison, ostensibly for forgery but really for the crime of forming a liberal political party of the type Mubarak promises to allow in the next election. Nour wonders if he gambled on democracy without a good reason, and he sent a missive out from prison to plead his case to the world. Newsweek publishes it in tomorrow's edition:

On Jan. 29, Egyptian security forces snatched me as I was leaving my seat in Parliament amid the cries of my political allies and the suspicious indifference of my opponents. I was dragged away and assigned to a new seat, at Tora prison south of Cairo. Now I sit writing by candlelight, trying to make sense of what is happening to me, my country and the Middle East.

Only 89 days before my arrest, I had celebrated the birth of my "liberal" dream: the Tomorrow Party. This project to form a new opposition group in Egypt had suffered governmental rejection for three years, and we won our license to operate only after four legal battles in court. It was a momentous achievement: ours was the first liberal party to be licensed in Egypt since the military coup of 1952.

Now a white, rectangular placard is posted at Tora prison carrying my photo and the number 1387. It says I am accused of forging the necessary legal documents to found the Tomorrow Party. Most Egyptians seem aware that this is an outrageous fabrication. But no one, including myself, is sure why precisely I've been jailed. Many pointed to a brief meeting I had with Madeleine Albright a few hours before my arrest. Am I counted as a U.S. agent for brushing shoulders with a foreign dignitary who is out of office? Some sarcastically say that the Egyptian government "fired" me for being too ambitious. Could the government not bear my calls for constitutional reforms? [It was only after Nour was imprisoned that Mubarak himself called for vague reforms.] Yet another line of speculation ties my arrest to an interview I gave to Al Horra TV, in which I declared that my party would run in parliamentary elections in 2005; I also called for a constitutional amendment to allow any Egyptian to run for president. Did I take democracy too seriously?

If Hosnu Mubarak truly means what he says, then Ayman Nour should not be sitting in an Egyptian prison. Mubarak cannot have it both ways; either people like Nour must be allowed to form political parties, or his promise of liberalization means nothing except a veneer of political cover for his next 90% "election" mandate. Rice and President Bush must insist on Nour's immediate release before we return to Egypt to do business with Mubarak.

Nour is an insulin-dependent diabetic, but in his letter he promises to conduct a hunger strike to protest his detention and the oppression of the Egyptian people. He will not last long on a hunger strike. We need to make sure that the world does not forget Nour before Mubarak beats him by default.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 6, 2005 9:10 PM

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