EGYPT: Opposition bemused by dissident's support for president's son
Egyptian political activists are furious at fellow democracy and human rights campaigner Saad Eddin Ibrahim after the sociologist signed a petition urging President Hosni Mubarak's son, Gamal, to run in the 2011 elections.
A vocal critic of Mubarak's regime and one of the first to warn of possible hereditary succession plans, Ibrahim has been living in a self-imposed exile in the U.S since 2007 to escape lengthy court battles against lawsuits accusing him of "defaming Egypt" as a result of his critique of Mubarak's regime in a number of Arab and international newspapers.
Ibrahim served 10 months in jail after being indicted of "tarnishing Egypt's image" before he won an appeal and was released in 2003 in a case that drew worldwide attention and strong U.S condemnation.
Nonetheless, the founder of the Cairo-based Ibn Khaldoun Centre for Development Studies stunned fellow opposition figures by signing the petition on Sunday during his first visit to Egypt in three years.
"It is either that Ibrahim [is] perturbed from years of exile abroad after state persecution or there is a deal he accepted with the government to avoid further harassment," said Hassan Nafaa, member of the national anti-succession coalition. "This is a miserable fall for Ibrahim and no one is going to believe him anymore."
Nafaa added, "The opposition is deprived of the right to run [in the elections] while Gamal's door is open in front of him and running in the elections is just up to him and his father."
Ibrahim defended himself by saying that he "signed the petition to support Gamal Mubarak's right as a citizen to run in the elections as a matter of principle," stressing that he doesn’t endorse the president's son.
"How can any sensible person believe that I'm so naive to support a person who didn't announce his candidacy, didn't reveal his platform, beside the fact that he has limited, almost lacking executive practical experience?" the 71-year-old added in a statement released Monday by Ibn Khaldoun Centre.
While possible presidential candidate and founder of El Ghad party Ayman Nour understands Ibrahim's belief that every Egyptian has the right to take part in the elections, the feisty lawyer says that "such right shouldn't be strict to Gamal Mubarak."
Activists were further puzzled by the fact that Ibrahim previously signed another petition put forward by potential presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei and his National Front for Change, demanding the amendment of the constitution in order to allow independent nominees to compete in the elections.
"Saad has harmed his reputation and undermined his credibility," George Ishak, a leading member of the Front for Change bemoaned. "Why did he sell out and give up all his history in a minute? To comeback and live in Egypt? It's pathetic."
Egypt's biggest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, reacted to the incident coolly, saying that it had not read the petition signed by Ibrahim and that everyone had the right to run in a free vote.
However, Brotherhood member Mohamed Beltagi said that backing a Gamal Mubarak candidacy means accepting the faults in the constitution.
The pro-Gamal Mubarak petition is part of a campaign to promote his image and amass mandates calling on the 47-year-old to be the ruling National Democratic Party's candidate come 2011. Carried out by the newly-formed Popular Coalition for Gamal Mubarak's Support, the campaign's general coordinator, Magdi Kordi was delighted with Ibrahim's signature.
"Dr. Ibrahim used to say that nomination means hereditary succession, now he says if Gamal secures popular support, this won't be hereditary," Kordi said. "It is a positive change in Ibrahim's position toward Gamal Mubarak," he added.
Neither President Hosni Mubarak nor his son have announced their intentions for next year's elections, but the elder Mubarak's recent health worries have fueled speculation that the head of the ruling National Democratic Party's politburo, Gamal Mubarak, is being groomed to succeed his father.
-- Amro Hassan in Cairo
Photo: An Egyptian man hangs posters of Gamal Mubarak. Credit: Agence France-Presse