CAIRO: As citizens of Cairo brace themselves for what is likely to be yet another round of solidarity protests for judges Mahmoud Mekki and Hesham El-Bastawisy tomorrow, another familiar face of the opposition heads back to court.
Nearly five months after the Cairo’s Court of Cassation handed down his sentence, El-Ghad party leader and presidential runner up Ayman Nour will appeal the verdict. Nour, 42, was sentenced last December to five years imprisonment with hard labor for allegedly forging the documents needed to establish his party.
The former MP has been instrumental in helping to build newfound momentum in Egypt’s opposition movement and many analysts believe he could have given incumbent President Hosni Mubarak a run for his money were there less hindrances for opposition candidates to campaign. He even roused the attention of some very important people in Washington; U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice met with Nour during her visit to Egypt in 2005 and during her visit this past February, saying she was “disappointed, and that his imprisonment is a “setback.
Nour’s time in prison has thus far been as fraught with as much struggle as life on the outside. A diabetic, Nour has undertaken a number of hunger strikes, and he is reportedly being kept in the Torah Prison hospital. There was word at one point that he refrained from taking his insulin shots. Later, reports were that he wasn’t being given the shots.
In April, the jailed opposition leader filed a petition accusing prison authorities of banning him from writing articles for his party newspaper. Later, it was reported that Nour was being held in close proximity with AIDS patients and in unsanitary conditions with frequent outbreaks of scabies. Early this month, reports that Nour’s wife, a journalist and party spokeswoman Gameela Ismail, was receiving harassment from police. Then, that his defense lawyer went missing.
In an interview with The Daily Star Egypt, Ismail says her husband is not alone in his constant struggle with the authorities. She says that the El-Ghad headquarters is constantly under surveillance and has been since long before the elections that earned Nour 7.3 percent of the votes. Recently, however, she says there is a resurrected wave of persecution.
“The party is under attack, she says late one night at the party’s downtown headquarters. “Every morning, we are getting every type of this you can imagine. Even after the elections. We are not getting any advertisements for our paper. No one wants to put their company in danger. You only put your advertisements in the President’s paper.
According to Ismail, Egypt’s national security is “smarter than it used to be. She cites incidents when men she believed to be with the national security approached the party, not as government agents, but as Egyptian citizens looking to join the movement.
“They listen to us talk, they fill out applications and they stir up problems inside the party, she says. “It’s an endless, endless struggle.
Still, Ismail admits that despite the struggle and hardships of keeping the party afloat, she still considers the experience incredibly rewarding. She looks back on the 19-day campaign period last August with fond memories, albeit an exhausting time.
“I was dealing with the media, organizing this and that, putting out statements and press releases, she recalls. “Of course, as a wife, as soon as the doors closed, be it in a hotel, on the train, whatever, I had to take care of my husband; his health, his food, his drink. Our children were also with us, so it was always ‘mommy this, mommy that.’
Ismail says she cannot begin to imagine what her life will be like should Nour’s appeal be denied tomorrow. The party’s new president, Nagy Al-Ghatrifi, was elected following Nour’s conviction and immediately assumed leadership. Asked whether she considered running for the role herself, Ismail says she would not allow anyone to nominate her, comparing such a scenario to the nomination of Gamal Mubarak to assume the presidency from his father. She says enrollment in the party is also down adding that the conditions the opposition is subject to is discouraging to anyone who wishes to speak out against the government.
“I mean, our party leader is in jail, she says. “He’s not just in jail, he’s got to do five years of hard labor.
Analysts are skeptical. Nour’s appeal comes amid the government’s recent attempts to flex its muscles against the opposition movement. With activity by the opposition only expected to gain steam following the mass arrests and violence surrounding the judges’ protests, some believe Nour’s appeal will take a backseat and the court may even decide to postpone the date to avoid further unrest.
“I don’t believe he will be successful, especially given the current atmosphere, says Emad Gad, a political scientist with the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “Now more than ever, the government will want to show that they are buckling down on the opposition movement.
As with many high profile appeals, a group of renowned legal experts have submitted to the Court of Cassation a report in which they object to the sentence of Nour, calling it unreasonable and undeserving of a five year sentence. Cairo University political scientist Moustafa Kamel El-Sayed says the courts generally accept the recommendations of this particular group.
“Whether the court will make its ruling tomorrow or not is an open question, says El-Sayed. “I guess that even if there is the tendency by the court to act positively on the report of the experts, they will most probably postpone their verdict. If [the judges] are chosen by the government, they will probably postpone their verdict.