Down and could be out
The jailed opposition leader Ayman Nour has received two blows that will undermine his future even more. Mona El-Nahhas
Contrary to expectations, the Administrative Court on Tuesday quashed a long-standing legal request to release jailed opposition leader Ayman Nour on health grounds.
Nour, serving a five-year jail term on charges of forging election documents, suffers from diabetes, hypertension and serious heart problems.
Admitting that Nour's health was deteriorating, the court added that his condition was not life threatening.
The court said it passed its ruling after thoroughly examining Nour's medical reports.
At the same time, the court obliged the concerned administrative bodies, including the Interior Ministry and the prosecutor-general, to provide Nour with specialised healthcare in and out of prison.
Nour's lawyer Amir Salem was briefly summoned to the chambers of judge Mohamed El-Husseini who passed the ruling. Following the meeting, Salem told reporters, "I totally trust the members of the court panel which passed the ruling." He rejected the possibility that El-Husseini and his colleagues had been pressured.
Before the ruling, security men cordoned off the area where members of the court panel were sitting, signalling to some that the ruling may not be in Nour's favour.
Gamila Ismail, Nour's wife and the deputy chairman of the Ghad Party which Nour founded, said their battle with the state was not over and vowed to contest the ruling before the Higher Administrative Court.
Salem told reporters that Nour's defence council will insist that he be granted proper healthcare, which the court recommended, outside prison, on the grounds that such care is lacking in jail.
Following the ruling, Nour's supporters gathered outside the courtroom, shouting slogans condemning the regime. They said they believed the government fabricated the forgery case against Nour to make an example of him to any potential challengers to President Hosni Mubarak's 26-year rule.
Nour finished second to Mubarak in the country's first multi-candidate presidential elections held in September 2005. The liberal Ghad Party was founded by Nour in October 2004.
One hour following the court ruling, the Political Parties Committee, which is affiliated to the Shura Council, ruled that Moussa Mustafa Moussa, a Nour rival, be named the Ghad Party's sole legitimate leader.
Moussa, former deputy chairman of the Ghad Party, broke party ranks in September 2005 to begin a long legal battle to be recognised as party chairman.
The decision of the political parties committee was based upon a court ruling passed in Moussa's favour by Cairo's Southern Court earlier last month.
The ruling addressed Safwat El-Sherif, the committee chairman, asking him to recognise Moussa as the leader of the Ghad Party and accordingly, to award him the LE300,000 annual financial aid allocated to political parties.
Ismail described the decision taken by the Political Parties Committee as "the last episode in the scandalous state serial aimed at undermining what is left of Nour and his party."
Since Nour's imprisonment in December 2005, the Ghad Party has been embroiled in legal fights threatening its very existence.
Ismail told Al-Ahram Weekly that the party's legal advisors intend to contest what she said was the illegal decision taken by the Political Parties Committee. According to Ismail, Moussa was dismissed from the Ghad Party in September 2005, a month before holding what she termed his so-called general assembly in which he named himself Ghad's elected chairman. Ismail said the decision to oust Moussa from the party was submitted to the committee soon after his dismissal. "By taking such a decision, the committee lent legitimacy to someone who has nothing to do with the party," Ismail said.
According to Ismail, the party will continue in its work "because its legality does not emanate from the government but from the street."
Political analyst Amr Hashem Rabie said Nour's twin setbacks had closed the file of someone who was once a fiery opposition figure. Rabie said they also amounted to a challenge from the Egyptian government to the US administration which has been pressing for Nour's release.
The court ruling and the decision of the Political Parties Committee -- passed during a visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Egypt -- sent a strong message to the US administration.
"While in most cases, we find the regime responding to US demands, it sometimes adopts a defiant stance when it realises that such demands may threaten the regime's own interests," Rabie noted.
"As such, the regime starts to condemn in a loud voice the unacceptable US interference in Egypt's internal affairs, using the terms 'sovereignty' and 'independence' to gain the support of the public whose hostility to the US administration is clear."
Rabie said the regime knows that the US administration is in need of Egyptian support for US policies in the region. "That's why they do not take US pressure seriously, even if the US threatens to cut the $200 million from the annual military aid allocated to Egypt if Cairo does not take steps towards political reform."
The money, part of the $1.3 billion the US gives Egypt, will be decided upon in October.
Ismail agrees with Rabie. "It is clear that reform and Ayman Nour are no longer US priorities," Ismail said. "The US administration uses Nour to serve its own interests. In other words, they use him as a card to force the regime to give certain concessions, mainly related to America's regional agenda.
"That's why I don't take US pressure seriously like the regime does," Ismail said.