CAIRO: Egypt s prosecutor general has set the dates for four lawsuits against prominent Egyptian-American rights activists Saad Eddin Ibrahim on charges of harming Egypt s economy by calling for cuts in US aid, a judicial official said Thursday.
The private law suits have all been filed by politicians and lawyers with links to the government in what observers says is a new way for the government to intimidate its opponents.
Several newspaper editors received jail sentences over last month, after private individuals sued them for insulting the government.
The suits, which each carry a potential prison sentence of three years, allege that Ibrahim spread false news and harmed Egypt s interests and the national economy by giving interviews to the Al-Jazeera network and a number of foreign magazines in which he called for cuts in US aid, the official said, on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
The cases, three of which were brought by leaders of token political parties, will be heard in court on Nov. 8, 18, 20 and Dec. 1. Ibrahim is currently outside the country.
We are reluctant to treat this very seriously, said his wife, US-born Barbara Ibrahim. There is no substance [to it] and there is no law in Egypt that prevents citizens from having an opinion on the aid.
My hope is that the judge will not view this as a serious case but we all know that that might not happen and Saad might have to remain outside Egypt until a higher court clear him, she told The Associated Press.
In May, the US House of Representatives tabled legislation to withhold $200 million in military aid until Cairo takes steps to curb police abuses and stop arms smuggling into the neighboring Gaza Strip.
Since the move followed only a few days after Ibrahim spoke with US President George W. Bush at a summit for international dissidents, he was blamed for instigating the cuts.
In an opinion piece that appeared Aug. 21 in the Washington Post, the 68-year-old sociologist described a regime cracking down on all forms of opposition in order to engineer an unpopular father-son succession.
Sadly, this regime has strayed so far from the rule of law that, for my own safety, I have been warned not to return to Egypt, he wrote. Regime insiders and those in Cairo s diplomatic circles have said that I will be arrested or worse.
One of Egypt s best known democracy advocates, Ibrahim was among the first to publicly criticize the grooming of the president s son to succeed him and was charged with tarnishing Egypt s reputation in 2000.
In a three-year odyssey of trial and appeals that included a year of jail time, the charges were eventually thrown out.