Saad Eddin Ibrahim has been freed from prison by an Egyptian appeals court, which nullified his earlier sentence of seven years of hard labor. But, it ordered a retrial rather than simply freeing him. (He was out for `Id al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan). A human rights activist, Saad has been an inspiration to us all. President Bush had complained about his treatment in a letter to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, which is something of a milestone in the evolution of US-Egyptian relations. The reaction of prickly Egyptian parliamentarians was that they would not accept foreign meddling. One thing they did not seem to grasp was the in a globalizing world we are all open to influences from abroad. The European Union puts pressure in various ways on the US to abolish the death penalty, e.g. The other is that a gross injustice had been done, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had been violated. As a member of the UN, Egypt is signatory to covenants enshrining freedom of speech, and so was in violation of its own law. Why should other UN members not say so?
The thing that worries me is the prospect of another trial. Saad’s health is not good, and he may not be able to take it. I think the notion of a retrial is a broad hint to him to leave Egypt and go abroad, but so far he has been too stubborn and principled to take such hints. For all we know he will be convicted again in the new trial. It reminds me of the ending of the Bonfire of the Vanities, where the protagonist had become a perpetual defendant even though he had never been shown to have committed an actionable crime. On the other hand, his poor health may be a cause for the courts not to go forward with the retrial. Let us hope they have this sense and decency.
The defense demonstrated that the Ibn Khaldun Center had not illegally received donations from abroad, since the funding from the European Union had been awarded as a sort of contract, and had not consisted of donations in the legal sense at all. Likewise they demonstrated that the military court had misconstrued the law forbidding the besmirching of Egypt’s honor. (This is a ridiculous law to have on the books in any case. A country, the honor of which is so fragile that it needs such a law has already lost its reputation; and jailing its foremost thinkers is calculated to strip it of any honor it has left.)
Congratulations to Saad for this great victory, and let us all hope Egypt has taken a step toward becoming a more humane and democratic society.