22 February 2009
News of the release of Ayman Nur, founder and former head of al-Ghadd political party, who had been in prison for forgery, finally drew the curtain on one of Egypt’s most controversial political cases. The public prosecutor last Wednesday evening ordered the release of Nur for health reasons one year and nine months before his prison term came to an end.
In December 2005, three months after the presidential election in which he came in a distant second to President Mubarak, Nur was sentenced to five years in prison for forging affidavits needed to set up his political party in October 2004. Many political analysts believed Nur’s case was entirely political, an attempt by the regime to keep him away from any opportunity to challenge the current political regime. Washington was sharply critical of Nur’s detention and repeatedly called for his release, although US criticism of the case died off in recent months. His wife Gamila Ismail, a former Newsweek correspondent, mounted an active campaign for his release on medical grounds.
The 44-year-old lawyer began his political career with the liberal Wafd party where, according to the head of Wafd Mahmoud Abaza, despite his huge political success, Nur earned a reputation as a wheeler dealer and a social climber. He left Wafd in 2000 and, in 2004, founded his Ghadd (Tomorrow) party. His political energy earned him wide support, but also scepticism over his credentials and the source of his wealth.
Nur is a father of two, and lives with his family in the upscale Cairo neighbourhood of Zamalek.
There is wide conjecture among the pundits that Nur was released to set the stage for a favourable reception of President Mubarak in Washington during the visit planned for next summer.
Nur himself said he was certain his release was a ‘political decision’ even though he said he possessed no evidence to prove it.
Hafez Abu-Saeda, head of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights described Nur’s release as a positive indicator where rights and freedom are concerned. It indicates, he told Watani, a wish by the Egyptian political regime to open up to the opposition and allow a wider margin of freedom. Abu-Saeda expressed a wish that Nur’s release would be a first step towards a wider dialogue with the various political parties and forces in Egypt.
The move, Abu-Saeda said, comes within the context of better Egyptian U.S relations. Recent positive indicators from the American side prompted the regime in Egypt to release Nur at this particular timing. “We welcome the move,” Abu-Saeda said. “We had repeatedly called for the release of Nur, but the Egyptian authorities never responded. So it is obvious the decision to free him now is a political one. We just hope that more such moves would follow.”
Some, however, do not believe the decision to free Nur was political. Rifaat al-Saïd, head of the leftist Tagammu party, said he believed the move was an attempt by the regime to pacify the turbulence which currently dominates Egyptian society as a whole. Again, he voiced a wish that more moves at pacification would follow, and that these moves would be concerned with such sectors as Copts and women. “As for the allegation that Nur was released in response to American pressure,” Saïd told Watani, “it is an insult to Nur. Personally, I don’t believe the regime responds to foreign pressure.”
It is an open question whether or not or how Nur intends to pursue his political career. Watani asked Ahmed Mekki, deputy to the head of the Court of Cassation about the issue. Mekki said that, according to the law, it would not be possible for Nur to exercise his political rights before an adequate provisional period expires.
Sameh Attiya, member of the supreme committee of Ghadd, said the party was in dire need for Nur’s presence, especially that it has been going through a period of political weakness. Nur will be instrumental, he said, in revitalising the party and sowing the seeds of confidence and strength among its ranks. On his part, Nur has said he looks forward to being back and to rebuilding Ghadd. As to his running for president again, he said, this was a party decision. “We look for national reconciliation,” he said, “For the sake of justice and democracy.”