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Cairo cafe scene
9.06.02
Politics and Economy:
Transcript: Prisoner of Conscience
More on This Story:
Transcript

RICK DAVIS: To see this man I have known for nearly 20 years in a cage — a large steel cage in a Cairo courtroom — makes telling his story with a reporter's restraint difficult. He is Saad Eddin Ibrahim.

I know him as the rare, courageous man who speaks out for fair elections in a country that has none.

In his many television appearances he demanded rights for the poor and religious minorities in Egypt.

SAAD EDDIN IBRAHIM: In a democracy everyone is a citizen.

DAVIS: He denounced the violence of radical Islam when the few others who dared to were attacked and even murdered.

He called for democracy and the end of corruption in a country under the firm rule of President Hosni Mubarak for 21 years.

IBRAHIM: If you believe in something---if you are a true believer then you have to be prepared to take some risks. And I was prepared to take those risks. Still am.

DAVIS: And he is paying a heavy price since one night in June of 2000 when Egyptian state security police smashed through the office of his human rights organization.

Ibrahim and 27 co-workers were arrested.

This university professor was now a prisoner in a police van moving to the state security court — where Egypt's most dangerous prisoners have been tried over the years, including the Islamist militants who assassinated President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

But why was Saad Eddin Ibrahim there? It was a warning.

FOUD AJAMI: Let's make an example of him. And let's drive home to all other academics and journalists and thinkers in Egypt that there is a price that will be paid if you run afoul of the will of the Mubarak government.

DAVIS: Dr. Fouad Ajami is the Director of Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

AJAMI: It's really Mubarak who dominates the life of Egypt. Had Mubarak chosen at any time to bring this political trial to an end we wouldn't be talking about it today.

NEIL HICKS: We were able to confirm that, indeed, the charges were baseless.

DAVIS: Neil Hicks is with the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. He was at the Ibrahim trial.

HICKS: He was a very well-known figure — probably Egypt's best-known public intellectual and one day he was thrown into prison for no apparent reason.

DAVIS: Ibrahim and his co-defendants were found guilty of tarnishing Egypt's reputation abroad and misusing funds donated to his institute by the European Union.

Even though in this affidavit introduced at the trial the European Union denied funds were misused. Ibrahim was sentenced to 7 years in prison.

In the nine months that followed, Ibrahim's American wife Barbara and their daughter Randa saw his health decline — from a series of small strokes while he was in a cell. Then the verdict was overturned on a technicality. But a retrial was ordered.

In May, during the brief time between trials, we spoke in his Cairo home.

IBRAHIM: For years I thought the threat to my life would be from Islamic Militants. Now it is equally from my own Government.

DAVIS: At the retrial Ibrahim was again found guilty and again sentenced to seven years in prison.

The conviction was a challenge to the Bush administration — especially after this speech at West Point in June.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The United States will promote moderation and tolerance and human rights.

DAVIS: The fact that Ibrahim held dual U.S. and Egyptian citizenship made this test case big.

PHIL REEKER: We have expressed also our deep disappointment over the verdict in the case of Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim and the serious questions that the case raises about the progress towards greater political freedom in Egypt.

DAVIS: There was no cut in the two billion dollars of yearly U.S. aid to Egypt, but a request for 130-million more was rejected.

AJAMI: We have to send a message that we stand for something above and beyond the hunt for terrorists-that we stand for democracy, we stand for the rule of law and we think that these are universal values.

DAVIS: The family photos show many images of Saad Eddin Ibrahim. His early years with Barbara. The family man. The speaker and college professor. The prisoner. But my image remains — the slowed but not silent man and these words.

IBRAHIM: As you grow older maybe you get wiser. But you also get more determined. That there is very little time left for you to carry out your agenda. And the agenda is still very long in this region. The agenda for peace. For democracy. For development. For human rights. And as I look back on my life-despite the long years of activism...

DAVIS: And then he went silent. Over the many years and many conversations I had never seen him trapped by his emotions.

IBRAHIM: ...feel that there was very little that was accomplished of that agenda. And still more to accomplish.

DAVIS: I won't call this a report on the trials of Saad Eddin Ibrahim. It is a personal tribute to an honorable man.


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