Will the postponement of opposition leader Ayman Nour's trial affect his chances of running in the upcoming presidential elections? Mona El-Nahhas
Cairo's Criminal Court decided on Wednesday to postpone the forgery case against 41-year-old Ayman Nour -- leader of the liberal Ghad Party and potential presidential candidate -- until 25 September. Nour's defense team described the postponement as a government attempt to prevent their client from contesting September's presidential elections.
"We had hoped that Nour could have proven his innocence before the elections. It's a very long and unjustified delay," said lawyer Amir Salem, the head of Nour's defense team. Salem said the delay would not deprive Nour of the right to run in the elections, as long as there was no conviction before the actual date of the elections, which has not yet been set.
After the session, Nour told reporters that he would not appear at the 25 September court session if it coincided with election day.
Sources close to the Ghad Party interpreted the court's decision as a regime manoeuvre meant to steer clear of a possible clash with the US -- in case Nour is found guilty -- prior to the elections. If convicted, Nour would lose the right to run for office and could face a prison term of up to 15 years. Once the elections are through, the sources argued, the government could do whatever they wanted with Nour.
US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said last week that the US was following Nour's trial very closely, expressing hopes that it would be an impartial affair. "We expect and we would hope that any proceedings would take place in a transparent, impartial and fair manner," said McCormack, reiterating the US view that "the Egyptian people should be free to speak, assemble and choose their leaders in an atmosphere free from intimidation."
A week before the trial, which began on 28 June, Nour met with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her visit to Cairo.
This week's postponement follows a marked shift in the trial's dynamic, after Ayman Ismail Hassan, one of the six co-defendants, withdrew the initial confession he had made against Nour. "Ayman Nour has nothing to do with forgery," Hassan told the judges from the caged dock in the crowded courtroom. Hassan explained that his previous confessions against Nour were made under pressure from security bodies that threatened to harm his family. Hassan said he decided to rescind the testimony because he wanted to have a clear conscience. After he recanted his testimony, Hassan asked the court to protect him from those who had forced him to confess.
During prosecution interrogations and at the first hearing session, Hassan -- together with the rest of the defendants, all of whom used to work as Ghad Party administrative employees -- confessed to committing forgeries upon orders from Nour.
Nour was arrested last January on charges of forging 1435 of the signatures he used to obtain his party's official license. While Nour and his supporters say the forgery charges are state-fabricated, their primary aim being to ruin his political future, officials insist the case against Nour is criminal with no political motivations whatsoever.
Nour dismissed the other defendants' testimonies, accusing them of being state security agents who had infiltrated the party.
Yesterday, after the judge adjourned the hearing, Mervat Saber -- another of the defendants -- told reporters that Nour asked her to change her testimony, an allegation that Nour denied. Saber then began showering Nour with insults.
Nour said Hassan's change of heart was the "biggest proof that the case against me was fabricated by security organs to ruin my future and eliminate me as a candidate in the coming presidential elections."
Salem saw the confession as a turning point that would take the case in a totally different direction. He told Al-Ahram Weekly that Nour's acquittal would now be more likely. He dismissed the other evidence that had been presented to the court against Nour as "having nothing to do with the original case".
At the Wednesday hearing, lawyer Ahmed Gomaa showed the court a video tape dating back to 1989 in which Nour allegedly admitted to have fabricated photos which were published in the liberal Wafd newspaper showing political detainees being subjected to torture.
Gomaa also tried to cast doubts on the authenticity of Nour's ID card number and CV .