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EGYPT: Activist burned in attack, says ruling regime involved

May 24, 2009 |  8:56 am


Embattled political activist and foe of the Egyptian ruling party Ayman Nour has accused the country's government of ordering an attack in which an unknown assailant burned his face and escaped on a motorcycle.

Nour said he believed "the regime is involved in one way or another" in the weekend attack.

"Somebody might have done it on the regime’s behalf or have done it as a complement to the regime," he told The Times on Sunday in a phone interview.

"I was in the car heading to a board meeting at the party when a guy on a motorcycle put a gas box on fire and threw it at me. My face and hair as well as some of my clothes got burned. Then the guy ran away. I saw him; he seemed to be in his late teens," said Nour. "I suffer from first-degree burns in the face and 20% of my hair got burned." 

The Friday night attack came one day, Nour said,  after he promised his supporters he would run for president in the 2011 elections. It also came less than two weeks before President Obama was scheduled to address the Muslim world in a speech from Cairo. Many in the Middle East are urging Obama to pressure U.S. allies in the region, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, to improve human rights and expand political freedoms.

Nour refused to be photographed until his three-week recovery period ends. To defuse skepticism over his claims, Nour expressed his willingness to meet with reporters. Nour was released unexpectedly from jail  in February for heath reasons after spending almost three years in prison. His freedom was interpreted by many as a goodwill gesture to the new U.S. administration.

In December 2005, Nour was sentenced to five years in prison for fabricating signatures to secure a license for his Ghald party. Many observers, however, believed the sentence was politically motivated and was intended to alienate a political contender who came in second to President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt's presidential elections in 2005.

Yet the regime may not be Nour's only enemy. While Nour was imprisoned, his party was wracked by feuds that culminated in its split into two blocs. Nour’s bloc alleged that the regime had incited the division to weaken the party. Earlier this year, violence -- in which Nour's office was set on fire -- erupted between Nour's bloc and the adversary bloc.

Upon his release, Nour vowed to rebuild his party and pursue his political activism.

 "Some suspected that this happened to prevent me from meeting with Obama," said Nour. "However, I have not received any invitation to meet with him. If I receive an invitation, I  will go. I do not mind meeting with anyone."

-- Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

Photo: Ayman Nour. Credit: Hasan Jamali / Associated Press