Egypt Punishes Sociologist for Defaming State

Howard Schneider Washington Post Service
International Herald Tribune

CAIRO An Egyptian-American sociologist, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, was sentenced Monday to seven years in prison by an Egyptian state security court that concluded that his attempts to monitor parliamentary elections and investigate relations between Muslims and Copts had defamed the state.

The 62-year-old academic, best known for a defense of civil society and democracy that sometimes rankled the country's security-conscious military government, was led immediately from the courtroom to prison amid shouting from human rights activists and other monitors who denounced the verdict.

The court also sentenced 27 other employees of the Ibn Khaldoun Center for Social Development Studies to terms of from one to five years in prison, effectively dismantling one of the Arab world's most prominent institutional advocates for democracy and intellectual freedom.

"This is politically motivated and the sentence is politically dictated," Mr. Ibrahim told The Associated Press as he was being led to jail. "It is a struggle, and it will go on. I do not regret anything I stood for." .A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, which had been monitoring the trial, said American officials were "deeply troubled" by the verdict against a dual national who was prominent in both Arab and U.S. academic circles. Typically the venue for trials of terrorists and others felt to threaten Egypt's stability, the state security court issued its verdict with unusual speed after hearing closing arguments over the weekend.

The accusations against Mr. Ibrahim, a U.S. citizen and longtime teacher at the American University in Cairo, focused on the group's acceptance of a $250,000 grant from the European Commission, part of which was used to produce a film criticizing vote fraud in Egyptian parliamentary elections. Prosecutors contended the funds were also used to produce fake ballots - materials that center employees of the center said were being used for voter education.

Mr. Ibrahim's arrest in July, along with the others, came as the liberal research organization was preparing to train election monitors and conduct voter education programs for a parliamentary vote last fall.