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March 22, 2005
Egypt Picks Its Opposition Candidate

In a move which almost guarantees that Hosni Mubarak's opposition will rally around Ayman Nour, the Egyption government pressed its forgery accusations against the dissident and likely presidential candidate, despite an earlier international outcry against his arrest:

Prosecutors charged Egyptian opposition presidential candidate Ayman Nour on Tuesday with forging signatures to secure approval for his political party, referring to trial a case that has drawn international criticism and created friction between Cairo and Washington.

The 40-year-old populist politician, who has long called for multi-candidate elections, was ordered to stand trial along with six defendants from his Al-Ghad, or Tomorrow Party. After 42 days in prison without charges, Nour who has declared his intent to run for president in Egypt's first multicandidate presidential elections this fall was released on bail March 12.

Prosecutor-General Maher Abdel Wahed announced the charges and referral for trial at a news conference Tuesday, but a trial date has not yet been set.

Nour's lawyer, Amir Salem, said the trial would not stop Nour's presidential bid. "This (the trial) was expected," said Salem. "They will not arrest him, he will be able to carry on with nominating himself as long as the verdict is not issued."

Nour first came to international attention when Condoleezza Rice refused to meet with Mubarak after Egyptian security forces arrested Nour last month. The unexpected and humiliating snub prompted Mubarak to propose a constitutional change in Egypt allowing for multiparty elections of the president, an office for which he intends to run again for re-election. At the time, Egyptians praised Mubarak for his turn towards democracy.

Now, however, he has apparently decided to improve the odds by using the courts rather than his security forces to repress dissent. I suspect the move will backfire on Mubarak in the end. After decades of strongman rule, dissident groups in Egypt have been poorly organized and fractured into hostile factions. With Mubarak targeting Nour so openly, he risks creating a central figure around which this fractured dissent will coalesce. Nour's persecution may well unite the Egyptian opposition, creating both a martyr and a rallying figure while remaining in the race against his oppressor.

It appears that Mubarak still fails to understand the tidal wave of demand for democratization and freedom swelling throughout the Middle East. He may have tried to get ahead of it by paying it lip service, but it will swallow him whole if he doesn't quit using tired and discredited authoritarian tactics such as trumped-up forgery charges. Instead of ending his career as a champion of liberty, he will wind up as one of its leading victims.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 22, 2005 8:41 AM

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Tracked on March 22, 2005 11:06 AM



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