Public Benefit

Case Notes: North Africa and the Middle East

The International Journal
of Not-for-Profit Law

Volume 3, Issue 2, December 2000


Trial of Egyptian Social Scientist Begins

By Shannon Eskow, ICNL Legal Intern

The trial of Saad Ibrahim, a prominent Egyptian social scientist, began in Cairo on November 18, 2000. Ibrahim, the founder and director of the Ibn Khaldoun Center for Development Studies (ICDS), was charged with receiving funds from the European Commission without the Egyptian government’s permission; misusing those funds; spreading false and malicious rumors to tarnish Egypt’s image internationally; and forging voter registration cards. Twenty-seven researchers and members of ICDS were brought up on similar charges.

Although three of the four charges brought against Ibrahim and other members of the Center make reference to the alleged misuse of European Commission funds, the EC has publicly stated that after its usual mid-term external audits of the Center were conducted it found no such misuse.

At the November hearing, a panel of three judges in the Khalifa Supreme Security Court granted a continuance until January 20 after listening to defense counsel argue that various procedural problems (lack of proper notification, irregularities in the evidence, and the volume of trial documents defense needed to sift through to prepare for trial) warranted a trial delay.

On January 14, the trial was suddenly moved from January 20 to January 16.

The prosecution presented its case first. The chief witness was police Major Nasr Mohieddin, an officer with the state security investigation department. Mohieddin’s testimony was essentially a restatement of the charges against Ibrahim. In its cross-examination, the defense pointed out various inaccuracies in the investigative reports on which the charges were based and the prosecution’s lack of knowledge of some basic facts relating to the case, including: confusion of the concepts “civil company” and “voluntary association”; confusion of the EU with the EC; and uncertainty as to the currency in which the funding to ICDS was made.

After the prosecution presented its case, the trial was adjourned to January 20 at which point the defense witnesses were heard. Among those testifying for Ibrahim were a law professor, an economist, a former vice-president of the World Bank, and Egypt’s former ambassador to Britain. After a more than four-hour delay, the witnesses testified that the charges against Ibrahim were warrantless and that ICDS is a first-rate research center. Five of the seven witnesses, who are board members of ICDS, explained their roles in detail and said that if they had observed any financial wrongdoing, they would have resigned immediately. The witnesses agreed that rather than be imprisoned, Ibrahim should be honored by the government for his work in social science and his advocacy of Egypt’s interests abroad.

The court announced at the end of the January 21 session that the prosecution will begin its arguments on February 17 followed by the defense. The court did not respond to defense requests for documents necessary for defense preparation and a lift on the travel ban imposed on Ibrahim since last summer.

After the January 20 session, Hania Mufti, a representative of the London Director of Human Rights Watch, commented on the trial in the wider context of the importance of NGOs and civil society in Egypt: “We are concerned with the effects this has had on NGO and human rights work in Egypt. This together with law 153/1999 has begun to make NGOs practice a kind of self-censorship for fear of government reprisal, which has serious consequences for freedom of expression and association in Egypt.”[1]

If found guilty, Ibrahim could face up to fifteen years in prison. There can be no appeal against a verdict of a state security court, and it can only be challenged before the Court of Cassation on procedural grounds, not the substance of the case.

[1] El-Ghobashy, Mona. “The case of Saad Eddin Ibrahim reveals deep-seated suspicions about the nature of social research.” Cairo Times . 24 Jan. 2001.


Tunisian Human Rights Defender Imprisoned

By Benjamin Plummer, ICNL Legal Intern

On December 30, 2000, a leading human rights activist was sentenced to one year in prison for publicly speaking out against the government. “The defendant Moncef Marzouki was condemned to eight months for maintaining an outlawed organization and for four months for spreading false information,” ruled judge Kabachi Mustapha.

Prior to the ruling, Marzouki addressed the court, stating “the authorities deem as political crimes my activities which aim to defend the rights and the dignity of the Tunisian people and their rights. I will pursue my activities until the end of my life.” Before speaking further, the court ruled his statements too similar to ones he had made earlier and then prevented him from speaking. In response, his lawyers walked out of the courtroom.

Marzouki is the spokesman of the Conseil National pour les Libertés en Tunisie (CNLT), (National Council for Liberties in Tunisia), an NGO which seeks to improve human rights by speaking out about the abuses of the Tunisian government, and an organization that the Tunisian government has refused to authorize.

This sentence is the latest in a series of actions taken against Marzouki since he began to protest various actions of the government. In 1994, while he was president of the Tunisian League of Human Rights (LTDH), the government closed down the Center for Community Medicine, which he founded in 1993. Also in 1994, he was jailed for four months after declaring himself an opposition candidate for president. In June 1999, he was detained by the police for several days incommunicado.

Following that arrest, he was denied his passport until June of 2000, when he went to France on a medical authorization he received after he was unsuccessful in securing a few weeks vacation. On his subsequent return, he was dismissed from his job as professor of medicine at Sousse University with the notice “This is to inform you that, on the basis of your referral to the disciplinary committee on 27 July 2000, you have been permanently dismissed from your job.”

Marzouki says he plans to appeal the conviction.