Ayman Nour and Gamila Ismail undone

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CAIRO: Egypt s best known political couple – opposition leader Ayman Nour and his activist wife Gamil Ismail – seem to be falling apart after 20 years of marriage, creating a buzz in the country s media and political circles.

Nour, who challenged Egypt s longtime president in 2005 elections, was imprisoned soon after. His wife and political partner Ismail, confirmed in an interview published Thursday that she had separated from Nour as a step toward divorce. The reasons for the separation have been always there but took different shapes, she told Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper. She said the official divorce has not happened yet but she said the decision to separate was final. She refused to discuss the reasons.

Word of the separation comes less than two months after Nour was released from prison, several months short of his five-year sentence. He was convicted on charges of forgery, which he had said were trumped up to remove him from politics after his challenge to President Hosni Mubarak.

Ismail had stood by her husband throughout his trial and imprisonment and rallied local and international support for his release with demonstrations and media appearances. She met with former US President George W. Bush asking him to intervene to the Egyptian authorities.

She was also seen as his political right hand. Ismail had a prominent role in Nour s liberal Ghad Party and waged a leadership battle with a pro-government faction of the party. The divisions turned violent when the rival faction clashed with Ismail s supporters at the party headquarters, which was burned.

Nour, who is in his mid-40s, is now trying to rebuild Ghad, though he is banned from running for office because of his conviction. Some have speculated Ismail would run in his place in the 2011 presidential elections.

When rumors of divorce first emerged earlier this week, Nour vehemently denied it. He told Egypt s Mehwar TV on Tuesday that Ismail was exhausted and needs time off. Neither could she be reached for comment. The couple have two sons.

When asked if separation will affect Nour s political future, Ismail told the newspaper, This is not true and I don t want to think about it that way because it puts me under heavy pressure. -AP

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