Saadeddin Ibrahim finds himself the centre of yet another storm following an article written for The Washington Post, reports Karim El-Khashab
Saadeddin Ibrahim is no stranger to controversy and unlikely to be surprised by the uproar that has greeted the latest article penned by the sociologist and human rights activist for The Washington Post. The article, after all, claims that the authorities were involved in the disappearance four years ago of Al-Ahram journalist Reda Hilal and Libyan dissident Mansour Kikhia. It alleges that the regime will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo, that the Interior Ministry's budget is massively inflated and that in Egypt the number of police officers now exceeds the number of soldiers.
Ibrahim scorns Egypt's attempts to represent itself as a useful partner in the Arab- Israeli conflict and the failure of President Hosni Mubarak to push the peace process forward, criticising Mubarak for not visiting Israel, unlike his predecessor Anwar El-Sadat.
He argues that the government plays on Western Islamophobia vis-à-vis the Muslim Brotherhood and used the Brotherhood's electoral gains in Egypt and Hamas's success in the occupied territories as an excuse to block political reform in Egypt. In short, he tells the readers of the Washington Post that the billions of dollars of aid given to Egypt have been spent on one thing; propping up the regime.
The response of the Egyptian press was predictable. Newspaper columnists argue that Ibrahim uses freedoms he claims not to have in order to tarnish Egypt's reputation abroad. Ibrahim's claims that a death squad was involved in the mysterious disappearance of Hilal, an outspoken critic of the Islamist political movement and advocate for greater political openness in Egypt, have been dismissed as baseless fabrication.
Ibrahim has been accused not only of tarnishing Egypt's image but of seeking to undermine national security. MP Mahmoud Ibrahim, a member of the NDP's influential Policies Committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that Ibrahim has political ambitions and is using his international contacts to pursue them. "He thinks that by saying these things he will get sympathy and can pressure us," he said, arguing that Ibrahim should be prosecuted as soon as he returns to Egypt.
Calls that he should face charges on his return have convinced Ibrahim that he should stay in the US for the time being, says his wife, Barbara. "I think these investigations remain open for at least six months during which time charges can be formally brought, so he will stay outside Egypt for at least that time," she said. The Interior Ministry says as yet no formal charges have been brought against Ibrahim.
Ibrahim's students at the American University in Cairo (AUC), where he teaches sociology, say that while they might agree with many of the things Ibrahim wrote he should not be publishing such things in the West.
"There is absolutely no need for him to go to the Washington Post to say something like that, it is a debate that we need to have here, not there," says former student Yasmin El-Naggar.
Fellow AUC professor of Sociology, Sami Omar, believes that while Ibrahim may have exaggerated the evidence for political assassination his real crime, in the eyes of the authorities, is the timing of his article. "You have to remember that this editorial comes hot on the heels of increasing pressure by the US with regards to reform and how much aid is given," he told the Weekly.
Whether it is Ibrahim's claims or their timing that have caused the uproar against him the incident raises questions over the extent to which dissent is possible in Egypt. Ibrahim, says Omar, may have misjudged by appealing to the US. "He struck a sensitive cord with Egyptians a long time ago and it will hang over everything he says in the future."