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Academic Convicted in Egypt

July 29, 2002

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CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ An Egyptian-American academic was convicted a second time Monday of tarnishing Egypt’s image and other charges and was sentenced to seven years imprisonment. The United States and Amnesty International criticized the verdict.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a 63-year-old sociology professor at the American University in Cairo, said he would appeal one more time.

Ibrahim, an outspoken human rights and democracy advocate, was sentenced last year to seven years for embezzlement, receiving foreign funds without authorization and tarnishing Egypt’s image. An appeals court ordered a retrial, which began April 27 and ended with Monday’s verdict.

The U.S. charge d’affaires in Cairo, Gordon Gray, issued a statement expressing ``disappointment″ at the verdict and reiterating U.S. concerns about the ``fairness of the process″ against Ibrahim.

Egypt is a close U.S. ally. Washington looks to Cairo as an important Arab voice of moderation in the Arab-Israeli confrontation, but has occasionally chided Egypt for its poor human rights record. Human rights organizations have said the case against Ibrahim is aimed at limiting political debate in Egypt.

Amnesty International ``strongly condemns″ Monday’s verdict and the trial, Sara Hamood, a London-based Amnesty official, said by telephone.

Negad Borai, a leading Egyptian lawyer and political reform advocate, said the verdict revealed ``that Egyptian laws are autocratic by nature.″

The defendant, wearing a blue T-shirt and perspiring in the un-airconditioned courtroom _ temperatures in Cairo topped 100 degrees Monday _ listened to the verdict without visible reaction. Later, he told The Associated Press he believed the verdict was ``politically motivated″ and said he would appeal again.

``I am as determined to fight on as ever for freedom and democracy and pay whatever it takes,″ he said.

His wife, Barbara, called Monday ``the saddest day for Egypt that I have seen in the 27 years I lived in this country. The rule of law died today in Egypt.″

Barbara, a native of Palatine, Ill., met her husband when she was a student and he a teacher at Indiana’s DePauw University.

In his closing arguments last week, prosecutor Sameh Seif told the State Security Court that Ibrahim was using funds raised through his think tank for personal gain and lured his staff into an embezzlement scheme.

Twenty-seven co-defendants, all staff members of a think tank Ibrahim founded and ran, were convicted of bribery and fraud charges and received sentences ranging from one-year suspended sentences to three years Monday. Most of the 24 given one-year suspended sentences had received similar sentences in the last trial and had not been attending the retrial hearings.

Ibrahim and the three co-defendants who did not receive suspended sentences were handcuffed and taken immediately from the courtroom to a court house jail. Later, Ibrahim waved from the barred windows of a van carrying all five, apparently to a Cairo prison.

Barbara Ibrahim expressed concern about her husband’s health, saying he had not even brought his medication to court because he had not been expecting a verdict. Ibrahim, who walked with the aid of a cane on Monday, suffers from a neurological disorder that prevents sufficient oxygen from reaching deeper recesses of the brain.

It was not immediately clear if the seven years Ibrahim received Monday was the total of different terms on each of the charges or if it was the longest of terms to be served concurrently. Court officials said a full explanation of the sentences would be issued later.

At the heart of the case against Ibrahim were democracy-building grants his think tank received from the European Union that included money to monitor and encourage participation in Egypt’s legislative elections in 2000.

The European Union has said in an affidavit it did not believe its grants, which totaled about $250,000, were misused by Ibrahim’s Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies.