Ibrahim, who has been living in Qatar since June 2007, says he fears arrest if he returns to Egypt.

The case is among a series of lawsuits filed by members and loyalists of Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) against government critics.

Accusations

Prosecuting lawyers Abul Naga al-Mehrezi and Hossam Salim took the case against Ibrahim to court and accused him of defaming the country after a series of articles and speeches on citizenship and democracy in which he criticised the Egyptian government.

Ibrahim said last month he wanted to return from exile, but only after assurances he would not be arrested.

According to the Egyptian independent daily Al-Masri Al-Youm, Ibrahim had written to the foreign ministry asking for guarantees that he would not be held on arrival.

The 69-year old went into exile citing a climate prejudicial to political opposition and human rights.

A vocal critic of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, Ibrahim was quoted in the Washington Post last year as saying he preferred to remain outside Egypt for fear of being arrested "or worse".

After meeting George Bush, the US president, in June last year in Prague he was called a "dissident" by the US leader.

Ibrahim, who founded the Ibn Khaldoun Centre for Development Studies, was sentenced in 2001 to seven years for, again, "tarnishing  Egypt's reputation," before being freed on appeal after spending 15 months behind bars.