Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim Sentenced to 7 Years Imprisonment with Hard Labor

2 August 2002

ICNL’s Founders and Staff wish to express their concern about and condemnation of the re-conviction on Monday July 25 of noted sociologist and civil society activist Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim by a military court in Egypt. Dr. Ibrahim is a person of great integrity, who had the foresight to establish the Ibn Khaldoun Center for Development Studies in Cairo. Despite its solid reputation in the development community world-wide, the Center has been shut down as a result of the campaign of harassment directed at Dr. Ibrahim and the staff members, many of whom also received jail sentences in the recently concluded retrial.

The charges leveled against Dr. Ibrahim are spurious (one charge, that of embezzling money from the European Union, has been denied by them), and are generally believed to have been brought because Dr. Ibrahim exposed various election-related improprieties of the current government in addition to writing about repression of the Coptic Christian minority. The conviction brings, in the words of the July 31 editorial in the New York Times, shame to Egypt.

Rani Khouri, writing from Amman Jordan has said that “Dr Ibrahim and his colleagues are fine Egyptians and Arabs, aspiring members of a global movement for democratic pluralism and for national political integrity and dignity. They pay a heavy price for their determination to build strong, free, tolerant and civil political cultures throughout the Arab World. Unfortunately, they will not be publicly supported by many people in the Arab World, because the same chilling forces that press down upon them in prison today also menace, intimidate, and largely silence their like-minded Arab colleagues.”

It therefore behooves organizations like ICNL (and the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Amnesty International, and other like-minded organizations) to protest the lack of proper attention to the rule of law in this case. Not only are the charges against Dr. Ibrahim and his co-defendants entirely without merit, the procedures used are also painfully lacking in attention to the most basic requirements of procedural due process. On July 28th the chief judge Abdel Salem Gomaa told Dr. Ibrahim he would accept a written statement in lieu of allowing Dr. Ibrahim to speak in his own defense. But on the morning of July 29th, after staying up most of the night to prepare the statement, Dr. Ibrahim and four of his associates were summarily sentenced and sent away to prison.

In his written statement Dr. Ibrahim talked a bit about the role of civil society and its fundamental nature in the context of a democratic state:

  • Civil society as a space for liberty is an essential condition for initiative and creativity. Thus, it is an essential pre-condition for sustained development in its most comprehensive definition.
  • The political dimension of this broader development is political participation, i.e. democracy, which includes fundamentally the holding of free and fair elections.
  • The trustees and researchers of Ibn Khaldoun believe that the system of a civil society is a comprehensive system; so if freedom is its foundation, democracy is its mechanism of practice.

The trial and sentencing of such a fine scholar and activist sends a very chilling message to others in Egypt who believe in civil society and who work to promote it. We at ICNL strongly condemn the Egyptian government for its role in this case. We also urge President Bush to send this message to President Mubarak – the conviction of Dr. Ibrahim and his colleagues should be declared void because they are contrary to both the facts and the law. Other governments and international entities (such as the European Union) have voiced strong protests about this re-conviction. It is our belief that the United States government should do the same.