Al-Ghad party targeted, says founder's wife

On 29 January, Ayman Nour, a member of Egypt's parliament and member of the opposition was stripped of parliamentary immunity on allegations he forged legal documents and affidavits to register his Al-Ghad (Tomorrow) party.

    Gameela Ismail says Al-Ghad members are intimidated

    Police remanded Nour for an initial period of four days pending an investigation. This was then extended to an additional 45-day detention period.


    Attorney-General Mahir Abd al-Wahid said Nour was being questioned in connection with a "criminal case under the penal code" and insisted that legal procedures were being followed.

    He said the status of Al-Ghad as a viable opposition party was secure and not under investigation.


    During his detention, Nour repeatedly met a team of lawyers and was visited by the Union of Egyptian Journalists, of which he is a member.


    On 22 February, Egyptian authorities said Nour complained of ill health and was admitted to hospital while in detention for issues related to his history of diabetes.


    On his return to prison, Nour filed a suit against the public prosecutor alleging that his lawyers had not yet been granted access to the particulars of the investigation.


    The Egyptian press has openly deliberated Nour's alleged guilt or innocence, with some editorials calling for his support and others urging patience till the investigation comes to a conclusion.


    Nour's detention came at a politically charged time as several demonstrations throughout Egypt called for constitutional reform to allow multi-candidate polls.


    On 26 February, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced he was seeking constitutional amendments to allow more than one candidate to run in elections scheduled for September.

  recently interviewed Gameela Ismail - Nour's wife - who had launched a legal and media campaign to secure her husband's release. Ismail has appeared on local and Arab media pleading her husband's case and given several interviews in local opposition newspapers as well as the international press.

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


    Gameela 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 Nour didn't need to forge 1000 signatures to establish the party. On the contrary, he received many proxy sponsorships from all over the country.


    Al-Ghad party members were
    shocked when Nur was detained

    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.


    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.


    When a party applies for registration they are usually told that their "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.


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


    GM: 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 Fathy Surur, Chairman of the People's Assembly, who removes the immunity.


    Nour said his lawyers had not
    seen details of the investigation

    This is what happened, but within a time-frame of a few hours on 28 January, a Friday and an 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.


    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.


    Nour was arrested a mere few days after he met former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Egyptian newspapers speculated that there was a connection.


    GM: 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.


    Nour's detention came as some
    called for constitutional reform

    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.


    Are you saying Al-Ghad was targeted?


    GM: I think that the main reason is that 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 People's Assembly elections in 2005.


    On 16 February, Gameela 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?


    GM: After some members of Al-Ghad had been advised by unknown 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 opposition newspaper 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 realise 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.


    Mubarak agreed to opposition
    demands for electoral reform

    "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."

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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