Egyptian Opposition Leader's Release Described as a Publicity Stunt
By Peter Clottey
19 February 2009
The Egyptian government has released a long time opposition leader ahead of President Hosni Mubarak's expected trip to the United States to meet the new U.S. administration. But Supporters of opposition leader Ayman Nour dismissed his release as a publicity stunt aimed to gain favor with President Barack Obama's administration. Prosecutors ordered Nour's released Wednesday citing his deteriorating health condition. Washington has been critical of the Egyptian government over Nour's arrest and detention and repeatedly called for his release. Claude Salhani is the editor of the Middle East Times. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that President Mubarak is playing his usual political game to get continued U.S. aid to his country continues.
"I think what is happening is President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is coming to Washington soon and he wants to show President Barack Obama who would certainly bring up the issue of human rights in Egypt. He wants to demonstrate that he is doing something about it. So, this is really a sign of goodwill on the side of President Mubarak to whitewash the situation in Egypt. He is just releasing one prisoner while there are hundreds who are rotting in Egyptian jails," Salhani noted.
He said there are reasons to believe the claims by the opposition leader that he had gone from being a victim of political assassination to being subjected to physical destruction are true.
"You know it is very possibly quite the case because there are two sorts of political destruction going on with the people opposed to the rule of President Mubarak. One is the physical elimination or let's say detention and physical abuse and torture that that is carried out in Egyptian jails. And the other of course is the psychological destruction of these people through a very systematic campaign carried out by the authorities in Egypt," he said.
Salhani described the release of opposition leader Nour as provisional.
"I think that this is probably temporary while Mubarak is in the United States and I think once he goes back to Egypt, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Nour and others are not arrested a second time or harassed further," Salhani pointed out.
He said the opposition leader could still be under the watchful eye of the Egyptian security agencies.
"Let's be very clear the fact that he's been released means a lot to be out of jail, but he would certainly be followed, his phone lines and internet lines would be monitored. So he is not really a free man in that sense of the word," he said.
Salhani said President Obama would raise the issue of democracy in Egypt when President Mubarak comes to Washington for a visit.
"I think it absolutely will be raised and I think that is the reason why Mubarak is preempting if you want President Obama's discussions because they will raise it and President Mubarak will do what he's always done. He's been now in power 30 some years and he is very good at playing these games giving the minimum to get the maximum. At stake for President Mubarak of Egypt is two billion dollars in US military and economic aid annually, two billion dollars," Salhani pointed out.
He said Nour would now be a stronger opposition leader than before he was jailed.
"Well of course in every country where regimes are not truly democratic, anybody who goes to jail for political reasons usually comes out stronger. And that is certainly going to be the case with Ayman Nour," he said.
Nour was released after serving three of the five years after he was convicted on charges of forging affidavits needed to set up his political party. He formed his political party in October 2004 with a view to contesting presidential elections the following year. But he was swiftly stripped of his parliamentary immunity and charged with forging affidavits needed to set up his party.
Nour has maintained the charges were fabricated and politically motivated to punish him for challenge Mubarak, in power since 1981. Nour has vowed to continue his work in politics through his liberal opposition Ghad party. But Cairo denied the accusation, saying its judiciary is independent and its rulings are not politically motivated.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who met Egypt's foreign minister in Washington last week, is expected to visit Cairo early next month for an international donor conference on rebuilding Gaza after Israel's invasion.
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