Al-Ghad party targeted, says founder's wife

On 29 January, Dr Ayman Nur, a member of Egypt's parliament and founder of Egypt's Al-Ghad (Tomorrow) opposition party was first stripped of parliamentary immunity and then detained by police on charges of forging legal documents and affidavits required to register his party.

    Jamila Ismail: Al-Ghad sought real reform in Egypt

    His arrest came at a politically charged timed and two days before the government was due to meet with opposition parties over constitutional reform, particularly reform of the electoral process.


    Egypt has also witnessed a number of unprecedented demonstrations calling on ruling President Husni Mubarak to refrain from running for a sixth term in September elections and demanding an amendment to the constitution which would allow other candidates to run for the highest office.


    On 20 February, interviewed Jamila Ismail - Nur's wife - who had launched a legal and media campaign to secure her husband's release.


    Two days later, Egyptian authorities said Nur was admitted to hospital while in detention for health issues related to his history of diabetes.


    On his release back into prison, Nur filed suit against the public prosecutor alleging that his lawyers had not yet been granted access to the particulars of the investigation into his case.


    The Supreme State Security Prosecutor's office in charge of investigating all material relevant to the case insists that there is no political crime involved and that the status of the party itself is neither under investigation nor threatened.

  The Egyptian government says that your husband forged or ordered the forging of some 1180 signatures needed to establish the political party he leads. Is that true?


    Jamila Ismail: Every crime has a motive. What's the motive behind forging a thousand signatures, if the law itself allows a political party to be founded with a minimum of 50 signatures or proxy sponsorships? Dr. Ayman Nur didn't need to forge 1000 signatures to establish the party. On the contrary, he received many proxy sponsorships from all over the country.


    We put a copy of the proxy sponsorship form on the party's website for all those interested to download, fill out and then mail or deliver to us. We also put it in a booklet outlining our political programme, which was then distributed in large numbers throughout the country.

    Al-Ghad members were shocked
    by Nur's alleged treatment


    We received thousands of proxy sponsorships and signatures over the course of the past few years and consequently decided that 2005 would be the appropriate time to launch the party into Egypt's political arena.


    The government's Parties Affairs Committee approved the party after deliberating on the issue in the courts for nearly two and a half years.


    The committee had initially rejected the party three or four times.


    When any party tries to gain approval from the Parties Affairs Committee, its leaders are usually given the same reason for rejection - "the party programme is similar to that of an already existing party".


    However, for the first time in more than 20 years and before a formal judgment was pronounced, the Parties Affairs Committee issued its approval for Al-Ghad to be registered as an official opposition party on the grounds that it had a distinctive party programme and brought something new to Egypt's political experience.


    This process proves that according to the law, founding a party is based on the nature of its political programme rather than the number of the people who support it.


    So the crime of forgery they accused Ayman of lacks motive.


    Al-Ghad party members, including your husband, maintain that the party's documents were legal and in order when they were filed to the Al Shura Council. But the government insists they are forgeries. Why is there this discrepancy?


    JI: I direct this question to the government and to shadowy security organisations that seek to destroy parties in Egypt, either from the inside by disuniting the members till the party falls apart and is dissolved, or by any other means.


    Do you know where the call to have your husband's immunity removed originated?


    JI: Usually, stripping immunity from a Member of Parliament comes from the Prosecutor General and is verified by the Minister of Justice. The request is then sent to Mr Fathy Sorour, Chairman of The People's Assembly, who removes the immunity.


    This is what happened, but within a time-frame of a few hours on 28 January, a Friday and official holiday. Normally, the MP is informed of the charges filed against him and then he is allowed to prepare a defence against the charges. These procedures normally last about six months.

    A copy of a letter Nur wrote in
    jail calling for party unity


    On 29 January, Ayman was delivered a letter informing him that he had 30 minutes to appear before the People's Assembly to discuss the removal of his immunity. They informed him that he was accused of forgery and fraud in National Security Case 169. He was not allowed to look at the accusation itself nor given ample time to defend himself.


    I find it suspect five senior officials – among them the Prosecutor General, the Attorney General and the Minister of Justice - convened on a Friday to issue the order to remove Ayman's immunity.


    At 1am on 29 January, the order reached the Chairman of the People's Assembly while he was in the airport coming back from Rome. Within hours the People's Assembly had handed down its verdict. Does this mean that the Chairman was only meant to sign off on the order without due deliberation on the matter?


    There are MPs who lost their immunity after months of deliberation and there are some who were able to successfully contest the accusations against them, present documentation certifying their innocence, and maintain immunity.


    This proves that extraordinary measures were taken to immediately strip Ayman of his immunity as an MP and thus make him eligible for arrest.


    Nur was arrested a mere few days after he met with former US secretary of state Madeline Albright. Egyptian newspapers speculated that there was a connection.


    JI: The accusation brought against Ayman and the case being investigated by the Prosecutor General has a political dimension. This is allowing people to let their imaginations run wild creating connections and conspiracies that do not exist. I myself don't think that this has anything to do with meeting Albright. He was invited to dinner along with important local officials National Party members, some ambassadors, diplomats and journalists. So, the meeting was hardly the private affair some press reports have made it out to be. On the contrary, Ayman was the only one to notify Mr Safwat El- Sherif, Chairman of the Shura Council. According to the law, any Party leader who might meet a foreign official should notify the Chairman of The Shura Council.


    There have been a few small demonstrations protesting against another term for Mubarak. Do you feel that this political turmoil may be somehow related to what has happened to Mr. Nur?


    JI: Egyptian civil society suffers from many ailments. It's very true that there has been an increase in freedoms lately. However, the real problem is that as soon as any real power starts to come to the surface, it is immediately suppressed. We can find freedom in the press, such as freely expressing an opinion. There are some movements, calling for political change, such as against extending the period of the regime or passing the regime of to the sons.


    All these do exist, but as soon as any popular power, or any movement comes up strongly and gains a lot of public support, it is immediate suppressed. This can be either through focusing on its head, like what happened with Al-Ghad Party, or through weakening the unity among its members and sowing dissent from within.


    Are you saying Al-Ghad was targeted?


    JI: I think that the main reason is that the Al-Ghad party and its leaders were able to make a real difference in Egypt's political environment in the first three months of their existence. As head of Al-Ghad, Ayman had laid out an ambitious programme to participate in the Peoples Assembly elections in 2005.

    Nur says there are efforts to sow
    dissent within the party


    (On 16 February, Jamila Ismail received a hand-written letter from her husband incarcerated in jail. Excerpts of the letter were made exclusively available to


    What was in the letter that Ayman Nour sent from prison?


    JI: After reports emerged that members of Al-Ghad had been intimidated and pressured by unknown security sources to initiate change within the party, Ayman issued a letter from prison calling for unity and courage. Members of Al-Ghad were told that if the editor-in-chief of the party newspaper was removed from his position, my husband would be released. This followed further intimidation when the newspaper was to first hit the streets.


    The Al-Ghad newpaper was supposed to be published on 9 February - Ayman had already sent 72 pages from prison for publication, explaining the details of what happened. A few hours before the publication of the paper, a party leader received a very clear message, saying that the paper would not be issued as long as Ibrahim Issa was its editor.


    Such actions prove that the entire case against Ayman is political and not a felony as the Prosecutor General would have you believe.


    In response to these pressures, Ayman said in his letter: "Protect Al-Ghad and don't allow any inner divisions. We have to deny ourselves to the extreme. We should realize that our real value lies in our ability to overcome this problem and in being united. Don't believe any claims made by any governmental body or official that would make you do something to get me out of jail. We are facing a historical moment and the party should come out as strong as ever. I pay with every minute that I spend here so that the party would remain strong. I would not be happy if the party shakes out of fear or the paper becomes official when Ayman Nour comes out of jail. The party will remain and nobody will close it. Don't condescend. You should bear in mind that Egypt and the whole world is watching you and Al-Ghad. We would either pass this test or fall forever.


    We should be strong and brave. We should hold on to our national beliefs, that's persistence on the amendment of the constitution, refusing to postpone and  thinking carefully when it comes to side for or against renewal of the presidency. The party's attitude towards the renewal is associated with the constitutional reform and with a decree from the High Committee."


    One of your husband's lawyers alleged on television that he may have been tortured? Is this true? Have you met or spoken with your husband since his detention?


    JI: He was certainly exposed to torture, whether psychological or mental, in addition to physical humiliation, like hitting him in the eye and kicking him. They made him kneel in the street in public as they were arresting him simply to humiliate him and set him as an example.


    An example?


    JI: It is a lesson for whoever wants a real reform, whoever has the mechanism for this reform and for whoever has enough popularity that can helps him to realize this reform.


    The Al-Ghad party paper has still not been granted authorisation for publication

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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