Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
13 - 19 July 2000
Issue No. 490
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

Front Page

The burden of proof

By Jailan Halawi and Mariz Tadros

For the third time in two weeks, state security prosecutors searched the Ibn Khaldun Centre for Developmental Studies on Monday. Investigators seized documents which they contend prove that Saadeddin Ibrahim, the centre director, received unauthorised foreign donations to report on the internal situation in Egypt and other Arab countries. Ibrahim, a sociology professor at the American University in Cairo (AUC) and a prominent figure in Egypt's NGO movement, was arrested on 30 June and remanded in custody for 15 days.

The documents seized in the recent raid allegedly include correspondence between Ibrahim and foreign organisations asking him to provide them with information, in return for $10,000, concerning the public reaction in Egypt to current economic conditions and mega-development projects. However, the principal accusation levelled against Ibrahim is that he received around $220,000 from the European Union to finance a documentary on voter participation in parliamentary elections. The film was deemed to be "harmful to Egypt's reputation." He has also been charged with forging voting cards.

In connection with the forged cards, state security prosecutors arrested Mohamed Mukhtar Sami, a printing press owner, on Sunday. He was remanded in custody for 15 days. Investigators allege that the forged voting cards were printed by Sami. Charges against him include taking part in fraudulent activities, forgery and receiving money from foreign parties. Sami allegedly told interrogators that since the start of an EU-funded project in 1997, he was asked by Ibrahim to provide him with forged voting cards. In return, he was to receive LE100,000. He is said to have claimed also that Ibrahim also asked him to manipulate some receipts to the amount of LE40,000 to be described as extra expenses.

On 5 July, security forces raided a second NGO, the Women Voters Support Centre, and reported confiscating 6,000 forged voting cards, copies of cheques from the European Union worth $200,000 and a computer. Staffers working at the centre were summoned for questioning and one of them, Warda Ali Bahi, was remanded in custody for 15 days for her role in forging the fraudulent voting cards.

The centre was raided following a complaint filed by Nibal Abdel-Nabi, its administrative manager. She informed prosecutors about the centre's close association with the Ibn Khaldun Centre and claimed to have evidence that incriminates Ibrahim. However, the head of the centre, prominent journalist Amina Shafiq, has denied any knowledge of EU funding, or any infractions allegedly committed by the centre. She added that all financial transactions were handled by Ibrahim in his capacity as treasurer.

Shafiq said that her role was limited to organising workshops and awareness programmes for women, encouraging them to participate in elections, be they parliamentary, municipal or for professional syndicates.

Abdel-Nabi confirmed that Shafiq was not responsible for the centre's financial matters. Shafiq has been the head of the Women Voters Support Centre since 1989.

On the basis of Abdel-Nabi's allegations, prosecutors have questioned seven employees working for the Ibn Khaldun and the women's centre in connection with alleged financial irregularities. According to Abdel-Nabi, they received bonuses in return for signing cheques in their own names which were collected by Ibrahim. The seven have denied the charge. They maintain that Ibrahim informed them that the money was being used to defray the administrative expenses of the women's centre.

Prosecutors claim to have stacks of forged voting cards as a result of the three raids against the Ibn Khaldun Centre. Investigators accuse Ibrahim of having paid researchers to use these cards in order to register fictitious names. Furthermore, investigators said they seized from the Ibn Khaldun Centre copies of cheques worth a total of $185,000. The cheques, prosecutors say, were issued by the Ford Foundation and a development organisation of the Evangelical Church in Germany. There were also copies of cheques worth 175,000 euros from the EU. Most of the EU money was to fund an EU-sponsored programme for educating citizens about their civic rights, prosecutors said.

To date, the charges against Ibrahim include forgery, fraud, receiving "bribes from abroad," harming the interests of the country and violating military order No 4 of 1992, which prohibits receiving funds without authorisation.

Last Thursday, prosecutors arrested Osama Hammad, a lawyer and employee at the Ibn Khaldun Centre. He was remanded in custody for 15 days for allegedly taking part in fraudulent activity and receiving money from abroad. Nadia Abdel-Nour, the centre's financial director, a Sudanese, was also arrested on 30 June and remanded in custody for 15 days pending investigations.

According to investigators, evidence of wrong doing continues to accumulate. An additional 17,000 forged voting cards were allegedly seized at Ibrahim's house. Yet, Ibrahim has denied any connection with the forgeries, and is said to have blamed researchers at the centre for any and all infractions. Five employees at the centre were arrested and taken into custody for 15 days last Friday. The centre has been shut down. In all, nine people, including Ibrahim, are now in custody.

Randa, Saadeddin Ibrahim's daughter, who is a lawyer, told Al-Ahram Weekly that her father believes that the charges of fraud and corruption against him are an attempt to tarnish his name. Furthermore, he contends that many of the charges are designed to raise questions about his loyalty to Egypt. "He believes that this is a settling of accounts by those who resent his work," she said.

Several writers have said that although they disagree with Ibrahim's views, they strongly disapprove of the smear campaign against him in some sections of the local press. Salah Montasser, an Al-Ahram columnist, complained that the press was dealing with Ibrahim as if he had been already convicted. Abdel-Moneim Said, director of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, criticised what he described as the "biggest smear campaign against a man who is still under investigation. This is not only an interference in the work of the judiciary, but a return to pre-civilisation attitudes according to which people are judged by prejudice."

However, the fact that Ibn Khaldun Centre has operated on foreign funds, is considered by some as manifest evidence that Ibrahim has questionable connections with the West. Some newspapers went so far as to list the names and nationalities of donor agencies, implicitly suggesting that this was proof of Ibrahim's questionable loyalty.

Hala Mustafa, also of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, believes that foreign funded research centres, human rights organisations and institutions tend to arouse public suspicion. "The enormous funding has raised question marks among the public about the nature of the activities for which it is intended," she told the Weekly. She is a supporter of the state's right to take measures to protect national security and demand accountability from foreign aid recipients. However, Mustafa believes legal statutes must be applied evenly. Specific institutions should not be singled out.

Said El-Naggar, a prominent economist and director of the New Civic Forum, opposes the criminalisation of institutions which receive foreign funding. He argues that accepting foreign funding should not be made illegal. "Even if all the allegations against Ibrahim are correct, they do not add up to a crime," he said. El-Naggar claimed that it is not Ibrahim, but his arrest, that is tarnishing Egypt's image abroad. "They are making a hero out of him," he said.

El-Naggar had organised a meeting at the New Civic Forum last week to discuss Ibrahim's predicament. A statement was signed by activists but it was a watered down version of the original draft. The idea of forming a defence committee for Ibrahim and his associates was dropped as well as a paragraph expressing "full solidarity" and affirming "complete confidence in his integrity and patriotism."

In the end, the statement merely called for the immediate release of Ibrahim and his associates, and expressed their appreciation for the work Ibn Khaldun Centre has conducted in the past. The statement then affirmed the importance of "the principle of the freedom of expression and the right to conduct scientific research, in defence of democracy." It also denounced the press smear campaign and reminded those slandering Ibrahim that a person should be considered innocent until proven otherwise.

Mustafa Kamel El-Sayed, a professor of political science who signed the statement, told the Weekly: "I personally do not agree with his [Ibrahim's] position supporting the normalisation of relations with Israel. And I don't agree with his views on economic liberalisation. However, one should be willing at all times to defend any person whose civil rights are being violated, irrespective of whether or not one agrees with their views."

(see Salama A. Salama's Close up: Sniper press)

Relates stories:
Prominent NGO figure arrested- 6 - 12 July 2000
A snag in the national fabric- 22 - 28 June 2000

Relates sites:
Ibn Khaldoun Centre for Developmental Studies



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