Last week kicked off with what I vote the déjà vu moment of “Egypt 2008. Once again a court hands down a jail sentence and fine to democracy advocate Saad Eddin Ibrahim in a cartoonish redux of what happened to the very same 70-year-old sociologist in 2001.
Back then Ibrahim got seven years and was charged with receiving foreign funds without government permission, tarnishing Egypt’s image abroad and embezzling grant money from the European Commission – accusations of which he was later found not guilty.
Following multiple appeals and an international outcry while Ibrahim languished in jail, the founder of Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies was released in 2003 in a dire health condition that left him debilitated for the subsequent five years during which he underwent multiple backbone surgeries to cure a severe deterioration in his central nervous system.
This time around the charges were a variation on the same theme, of course including the requisite “tarnishing Egypt’s image slur.
But luckily in 2008 Ibrahim has been out of the country since the end of last year, when he came under attack for criticizing the current regime and President Hosni Mubarak in a meeting with US President George W. Bush in Prague, in June 2007.
His criticism of Egypt’s political scene in an article that appeared in the Washington Post had spurred a merciless smear campaign that later mushroomed into some 30 lawsuits initiated by a motley crew of ruling National Democratic Party lawyers and state security prosecutors.
Ibrahim was taken to task for insulting the President, spreading rumors about the status of human rights in Egypt as well as harming the national economy. Some lawsuits even called for stripping him of Egyptian nationality.
It is a mystery how the Egyptian regime, with its elaborate intelligence network, remains oblivious of the fact that every time the courts come up with such rulings – in a morally bankrupt attempt to hide the suppression of dissenting voices behind a façade of legal legitimacy – they are shooting themselves in the foot.
As Ibrahim himself points out in a commentary published in Al-Dostour on Thursday, his detractors must be unaware of the fact that he is the only Arab Muslim member of the supreme board convened to mark the 60th anniversary of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10 this year.
“If only half the rights advocates all over the world have heard about the verdict issued by the Khalifa Misdemeanors Court on Aug. 2, then the other half is sure to find out about it at the anniversary in four months time, he wrote.
If the authorities had deliberately wanted to “tarnish Egypt’s image they couldn’t have done a more stellar job.
Is there any better way to prove that Egypt is a haven of democracy, transparency and respect for human rights and freedom of conscience than by convicting the highest profile rights advocate in the country, whose previous case had garnered support from around the globe?
It seems there is no method in their madness, only a rabid obsession with holding on to the reigns of power reminiscent of the absolute monarchies of pre-French Revolution France or even pre-Bolshevik revolution Tsarist Russia.
Everywhere in Egypt people are saying the pot is about to boil over very soon. With the communication revolution, information is literally a click or satellite dish away. So, to those who are looking and listening (but alas not learning), at least try to be a little more subtle and stop insulting peoples’ intelligence.
Egyptians have learnt to compare and contrast – rulings incriminating Saad Eddin Ibrahim and editors Ibrahim Eissa, Wael Al-Ibrashi, Adel Hammouda, Abdel Halim Qandil versus other verdicts acquitting MP Hani Sorour of the defective blood bags, Mamdouh Ismail of the infamous sunken ferry, not to mention the tens of cases of administrative corruption that are “settled out of court.
Let’s just hope that history repeats itself this time round, and charges against Saad Eddin Ibrahim end up in some wastebasket where they belong before Dec. 10.
Rania Al Malkyis the Chief Editor of Daily News Egypt.