Welcome Release of Ayman Nour
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 19th February, 2009
The imprisoned Egyptian Liberal politician Ayman Nour was unexpectedly released yesterday, in a move that has been welcomed in Brussels and Washington. The 44-year-old Mr Nour is the leader of the Ghad Party (with which I have had contact in Cairo, through my work with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and Liberal International). A lawyer by profession, he ran against the incumbent President Hosni Mubarak in the 2005 presidential elections, coming a distant second. He was subsequently charged with fraud and sentenced to five years in jail, but he insists that the prosecution was politically motivated and designed to punish him for standing against President Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981.
The official reason for Ayman Nour’s release was ‘on health grounds’, though many commentators believe that the Mubarak administration wishes to ingratiate itself with the Obama administration in Washington, which is likely to take a tougher line than its predecessor’s on human rights abuses and democratic constraints in Egypt, which receives huge amounts of US aid annually. Mr Nour says he intends again to take over the helm of his party — which has been in a state of demoralised shock since his imprisonment — though he is technically barred from standing for public office because of his conviction, unless he receives a presidential pardon.
Commenting on Mr Nour’s release, Graham Watson, MEP, leader of the Liberal (ALDE) Group in the European Parliament, said, ‘I applaud Ayman Nour’s brave decision to return to political life. We all know that this courageous move comes at high risk to his own security and we stand with him, shoulder to shoulder.’ Those who think that this marks a return to democratic norms in Egypt should not celebrate too soon, however. As Amr El-Choukabi, of the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo told Reuters, ‘All indicators show that [Egypt] is poised for more restrictions until the government wins the next legisltive elections by an overwhelming majority and the candidate of the NDP [Mubarak’s party] wins the presidential elections in 2011.’