Schiff Calls on Egyptian President to Release Political Opponent from Jail and Promote Democracy

Washington DC – Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) today, wrote a letter to Egyptian President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak asking him to release democracy activist and opposition politician Ayman Nour from jail.  Nour is serving a five year sentence for forgery.  Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA) cosigned the letter to President Mubarak.

Mr. Nour, leader of the al-Ghad party, ran for President of Egypt against Mr. Mubarak on a platform that called for greater democracy and freedom in Egypt.  His prosecution on forgery charges was seen by independent observers as an attempt by the Mubarak government to enhance its political position by discrediting a secular, democratic opponent.  In January 2005, Rep. Schiff authored a resolution condemning the arrest of Mr. Nour and called on the Egyptian government to release Mr. Nour immediately.  The resolution was passed unanimously by the House International Relations Committee in March 2005.  Rep. Schiff also sent a letter to President Mubarak in January 2006, in the immediate aftermath of Mr. Nour’s conviction, asking for the Egyptian president to free the opposition politician.

“President Mubarak and the Egyptian government have shown great leadership in the quest for peace in the Middle East, but they have dragged their heels when it comes to the political reform that is crucial if Egypt is to remain a regional leader,” Schiff said.  “When authoritarian regimes in the Middle East marginalize secular democratic opposition, all that may be left are the radical Islamist movements. We must not stand idly by and watch Egypt take steps that undermine democracy and human rights.”

The text of the letter is below.

May 17, 2006

His Excellency Muhammad Hosni Mubarak
President of the Arab Republic of Egypt
'Abedine Palace
Cairo, Egypt

Dear President Mubarak:

We write to again express our deep concern over the continued imprisonment of opposition politician Ayman Nour as well as the more general crackdown on secular proponents of greater democracy in Egypt. 

 As you well know, Mr. Nour, the founder and president of the al-Ghad party, stood for President of Egypt in last fall’s elections.  As a candidate, Mr. Nour espoused democratic values, with a strong emphasis on constitutional reform to limit the powers of the executive and open Egypt’s presidential elections to multiple candidates.  Despite having been arrested on forgery charges, jailed and subsequently released on bail in the months before the elections, and with the prospect of a trial hanging over him in the weeks following, Mr. Nour finished in second place with 7 per cent of the vote according to Egyptian government figures and 13 per cent by independent observers.

On December 24, 2005 Mr. Nour was sentenced to five years in jail, following a trial on the forgery charges.  Independent observers widely hold that the government’s intent in prosecuting him was to enhance its political position by discrediting a secular, democratic opponent.  That misgiving is heightened by the fact that the judge in the Nour case was Adel Abd al-Salam Gomaa, who in 2002 presided over the trial of American University in Cairo professor Saad Eddin Ibrahim, another outspoken advocate for democratic reform in Egypt.

The Nour case is part of a disturbing pattern of backsliding on democracy by your government in recent months.  Much has been made by Egyptian officials about the constitutional changes that the parliament implemented to open last year’s elections, but a change of law is hollow if it is not upheld in practice.  While last year’s elections were more open than some in the past, there were widespread allegations of political intimidation, ballot-stuffing, multiple voting, and illegal campaigning by the ruling National Democratic Party.  

These allegations have been strengthened in recent weeks by two magistrates, Mahmoud Mekky and Hesham Bastawisi, who have accused the NDP of rigging the outcome of last year's parliamentary elections. We understand that the judges face possible prosecution and removal from the bench and believe that this would be a serious blow to the Egyptian judiciary’s efforts to assert its independence.

The standoff over the judges has led to clashes between police and democracy advocates in Cairo.  Egyptian democrats and other observers view these confrontations, the Nour conviction and the arrest of other regime opponents as a concerted effort to atomize the secular opposition.  This backlash against the opposition was aggravated by the recent decision by the parliament to continue the state of emergency that was imposed on the country after the assassination of President Sadat in 1980.

We are acutely aware of the raft of terror attacks that have killed and wounded so many Egyptians in recent years, especially in the Sinai Peninsula.  As we in the United States still grapple with the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, we understand the delicacy of the balance between security and freedom.  However, we believe that your government has made a serious mistake in targeting its democratic opponents, while allowing Islamists to gain power and assume the role as the sole alternative to the NDP.  Throughout many meetings that we have had with Egyptian officials over the years, we have been told over and over that Egypt’s number one security concern is Islamic radicalism, yet you have chosen to destroy the political movement that provides the only alternative to Islamism.

It is our understanding that Mr. Nour’s appeal will soon be heard by the Court of Cassation and we hope that this will result in Mr. Nour being cleared of the charges against him and released.  Should the Court of Cassation uphold the verdict of the trial court, we respectfully request that you pardon Mr. Nour on compassionate grounds as he is in frail health.  We also urge you to work with the judiciary to allow it to perform its essential function.  Your nation is blessed to have such courageous and patriotic jurists, who are willing to fight for the principle of the rule of law.  Finally, we urge you to ask parliament to reconsider its decision to extend the state of emergency for another two years.  We believe that it is neither conducive to augmenting internal security, nor consistent with your pledge to democratize Egypt.

Mr. President, Egypt is one of the world’s great civilizations; it is a longstanding ally of the United States; it is a key player in the search for peace between Israel and the Palestinians; and it is the traditional leader of the Arab world.  We urge you to build upon your commitments of last year and thereby strengthen Egypt and boldly chart a new path for your people and millions more in the Middle East.



Member of Congress    

Member of Congress