The CHR's Mission to Cairo
Morton Panish & Jay Davenport
Late at night on June 30, 2000, Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim and two of his co-workers at the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies (ICDS) were detained and interrogated by the Egyptian State Security Police in Cairo. Dr. Ibrahim, who is 62 years old, is a respected Egyptian sociologist, professor in the Department of Sociology at the American University in Cairo (AUC), and director and chairman of the board of the ICDS, also headquartered in Cairo. He holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Washington and has taught there, at Cairo University, and at several other universities in the United States. He has published widely, including some 30 books in English and Arabic. Dr. Ibrahim has been an adviser to the Egyptian government, president of Cairo's Union of Social Professions, and has served as a board member and head of Arab Affairs of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. He is well known for his work both as a scholar and a champion of democracy and human rights. In addition to his membership in organizations such as the Club of Rome and the World Bank's Advisory Council for Environmentally Sustainable Development, Dr. Ibrahim has been a leading proponent of democratic reforms in Egypt, particularly with regard to minority rights. He has served as secretary general of the Arab Organization for Human Rights (Cairo). As secretary general of the Egyptian Independent Commission for Electoral Review, he has supervised the monitoring of the election process in Egypt. A report documenting instances of government election violations and fraud in the 1995 parliamentary elections was produced by the Commission. During a September 13, 2000, talk at the American University in Cairo, Dr. Ibrahim reportedly said that he believed it was his criticism of these elections that were behind the charges brought against him.
The ICDS is an independent research organization whose main objective is the advancement of applied social sciences in Arab countries and the developing world, with a primary focus on Egypt. Its board of directors and staff include prominent Egyptian scholars, former cabinet ministers and diplomats, as well as people from the arts and business communities in Egypt. The Center has conducted many well-regarded studies and conferences on democratic reform and the strengthening of civil society. Emphasis has also been placed on equal rights for women and on exposing and mitigating strife between Copts and Moslems in Egypt. In addition, the ICDS has trained Egyptian students in social science research methods and has given them opportunities to participate in field research. According to the Middle East Times, the Ibn Khaldun Center has been “a thorn in the Egyptian regime's side” since the radical Islamist threat receded in the mid-to-late 1990s, when it and similar organizations began to focus more on the government 's lack of democratic reform than on Islamist extremist violence. The
Center's activities have been kept under surveillance for some time, and in January 2000 the authorities ordered its journal, Civil Society, to close down.
At the time of the detention of Dr. Ibrahim and two of his staff members during the night of June 30, 2000, the security police also closed the ICDS and seized all computers and files as well as research materials and financial records. Since that time, entry to the Center has been denied to its board members and staff. The state prosecutor has been given access to the confiscated records in the preparation of the case against Dr. Ibrahim and his staff, but these same records are closed to the defense. The personal computer, files, and family safe in the home of Dr. Ibrahim were also confiscated by the prosecutor.
During the next six weeks, 28 people (including Dr. Ibrahim) were placed in preventive detention in Cairo's al-Turah prison or Quantar Prison for Women. At the time of the initial June 30 detention, the detention order was for 15 days pending the outcome of a state investigation. Subsequently it was renewed twice, up to the maximum 45-day time limit under the 1981 Egyptian emergency law. Dr. Ibrahim and his colleagues were released on bail ranging from 10,000 to 25,000 Egyptian pounds (4 Egyptian pounds equals about US $1) on August 10, 2000, pending the filing of formal charges. As is routine in cases under the emergency security law, the prosecution used the detention time to uncover and present new accusations.
During the early weeks of Dr. Ibrahim's detention and confinement many newspapers, apparently under government influence, published articles containing speculation, rumors, and inaccurate accounts of his behavior and actions. Several reported identical factual errors, suggesting orchestration. For example, according to the Middle East Times, the pro-government paper Akbar El Yom wrote that “He (Ibrahim) deserves to be stoned . . . we know he is . . . loyal to those who pay him lots of money in return for information . . . in which he defames Egypt's reputation.” According to Al-Ahram Weekly Dr. Ibrahim faced 30 accusations over the course of his detention. Subsequently newspaper comments became more temperate. In fact, sensational accounts and most speculative accusations disappeared for some time from the front pages and editorials, particularly in the government controlled media. Knowledgeable observers believe that the apparent smear campaign was abruptly abandoned in response to international expressions of concern and protest. However, in early April sources close to Dr. Ibrahim claimed that the Egyptian press was again sensationalizing the case and cited as an example a recent interview of President Hosni Mubarak that was published in Newsweek on March 31, 2001, but reportedly misquoted by the Egyptian press.
II. The Charges
At the time of Dr. Ibrahim's release on bail, many people in Egypts' civil rights community assumed that the accusations against him would be dropped based on their
lack of substance and in response to the outcry from people and human rights organizations in many countries. However, shortly after his release, on September 13, Dr. Ibrahim gave a lecture at the American University in Cairo entitled “How I Spent My Summer” which may have reinforced the government authorities' decision to bring formal charges. Some 600 students attended the lecture. According to several news accounts it was not inflammatory. However, during that lecture Dr. Ibrahim agreed to a student's request to monitor the upcoming parliamentary elections. (Subsequently, on October 1, Dr. Ibrahim announced that, given family pressure, the need to prepare his trial defense, and his professional commitments at AUC, he would not monitor the November 2000 parliamentary elections.)
In the days immediately following his university lecture, the inflammatory press attacks were renewed. On September 24, the Egyptian government formally charged Dr. Ibrahim and his colleagues as follows:
Dissemination of false information harmful to Egypt;
Illegal receipt of foreign funding (i.e., without prior permission from Egyptian authorities);
Misuse of, and personal gain from the use of foreign funding including the bribery of government officials to create a favorable public opinion about the role and the work of the ICDS; and
Falsification of election documents in its studies of and education efforts about Egyptian electoral processes and procedures.
Yet another, and far more serious charge—that of espionage—remains as a threat to Dr. Ibrahim. On August 6, 2000, the chief state prosecutor included espionage in a list of possible accusations. It was alleged that Dr. Ibrahim disclosed Egyptian security secrets at a 1994 conference organized by and held at the National Defense College in Washington, D.C. At that conference Dr. Ibrahim spoke about his research on Islamist movements in Egypt. Eleven Egyptian embassy officials in Washington, including the ambassador and two army generals, reportedly attended the conference. In the Newsweek article, mentioned earlier in this report, President Mubarak was asked about the trial of Dr. Ibrahim in the context of how well Egypt is doing in developing a civil society. Mubarak responded by saying:
You are making a big fuss about this man. Some people consider him a traitor. So the best thing is not to mention him. People ask, “Why are the Americans so concerned about Saad Ibrahim?” We never interfere.
When President Mubarak was asked whether one can be tried for being too close to the United States, he replied: These are very serious accusations against him. I told the attorney general, put it aside, because this would make a big story and very high punishment.
III. The Political and Legal Environment
A. Political Environment
Since the death of Gamal Abdal Nasser in 1970, Presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak have moved Egyptian society to one of greater political and economic freedoms. In the economic sphere particularly, opportunities for competition and private investment have been markedly enhanced. Many state-owned enterprises have been privatized. Some latitude is permitted to examine governmental policies and programs in the press; although government participation in the ownership of major newspapers still exists. This, and the considerable lack of restraint on the power of the government, leads one to believe that the press is not entirely free. Opposition political parties are permitted; however, political organization in the civil society is subject to government oversight and, at times, repressive—overt and covert—government actions. According to the Middle East Times, “On paper it seems as if the Egyptian political system is a multiparty democracy. Indeed there are a multitude of parties, however in reality their participation in government is severely limited.” Recognized issues of sensitivity include the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood in the political arena, alleged discrimination against minorities (especially the Copts), Arab-Israeli questions, Middle East peace initiatives, and normalization of relations with Israel.
Within this general political environment the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies (ICDS) operates as a non-governmental research organization seeking to use research in the social sciences to enhance public policy. The ICDS is a professional, private and civil firm that pays taxes rather than a civil association as defined under the Egyptian Law of Associations, number 32 for the year 1964. As a civil firm the Center is, in theory, not required to request authorization before receiving a foreign grant or contract.
B. Legal Environment
The court system in Egypt includes four principle elements:
Ordinary Civil Courts are based on a French model of jurisprudence without juries, in which one or more judges hear a case and render the verdict. Although there is a presumption of guilt and the burden of proof of innocence rests with the defense, there is a considerable degree of due process and protection for the accused.
Military Courts have jurisdiction in cases of terrorism and other serious offenses against the state and, thus, the authority to try civilians accused of such offenses. Such trials may be closed to outside observers (general public and the press), and the decisions of military courts are not subject to review by the Egyptian Court of Cassation.
Emergency State Security Courts deal with cases of terrorism. Rights of an accused person are greatly restricted, and the verdict of the court may not be appealed.
State Security Courts have jurisdiction over matters considered to affect the image and security of the state. Such issues are often highly political in nature. The court is presided over by a panel of three civilian judges who are generally senior people of extensive legal experience. Decisions may be appealed to the Court of Cassation, the nation's highest appellate authority, on procedural grounds and limited legal challenges to the substance of the court ruling. The Court of Cassation, which is a constitutionally governed court rather than a specially created state security court, may declare a mistrial but cannot overturn a state security court ruling. Although State Security Courts are seen to be less draconian than the military courts, they have fewer procedural safeguards than the ordinary civil courts and are vulnerable to pressure from the security forces. Professor Ibrahim and his colleagues from the Ibn Khaldun Center are being tried in a State Security Court.
The U.S. Department of State's “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices -2000” (released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, February 2001) considers the Egyptian courts (not including the military and emergency courts) to be largely independent of the government and the state security apparatus. In the case of Dr. Ibrahim and his 27 co-defendants, the presiding judge, Mohammed Abdel Gayed Shalabi, has a reputation for fairness. (In an April 14 note from Barbara Ibrahim to the CHR regarding the trial she said that “the judges were paying good attention, all three took notes at some points, and they did not try to cut anyone off.”) Knowledgeable people with whom the delegates conferred affirmed that by Egyptian standards and procedures, the State Security Court for this trial appears to be professional, open, and possessing features that allow the defense independence in presenting its case. However, the system lacks certain very important protections. Among these is the right of the accused to demand the identification of persons whose testimony is introduced but who are unnamed by the prosecution, to require their appearance in court, and to confront them for cross examination.
Since the public presentation of the prosecution referred to affidavits signed by witnesses (who are presumably some of the defendants), the failure to permit them to be publicly questioned about the facts and circumstances under which the affidavits were secured denies the accused fundamental elements necessary for their defense. The interrogation of Dr. Ibrahim and his colleagues took place during the 45-day period of
detention and state investigation, often without the presence of legal council and under intimidating circumstances such as prolonged periods of questioning during the day and at night. These are clear violations of Articles 10 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
IV. The Trial 1
The State Security Court meets for one week every month. Each of the monthly cycles can have up to six days of sessions. Each session can vary in length from one to four hours. Thus a complex case can extend over a period of many months.
A. The November Cycle
The courtroom was packed on November 18, 2000, at the opening session of the ICDS trial. At least 150 persons were estimated to be present —students and fellow faculty members from the American University in Cairo, friends of the defendants from the human rights community in Egypt and abroad, foreign diplomats from the United States and from countries of the European Union, and members of the Arab and Egyptian press. After a four hour preliminary hearing, a delay of further proceedings was granted until January at the request of the defense to give them the time needed to prepare their case more adequately. The defense also requested that the Ibn Khaldun Center be allowed to reopen and that full access be granted to all of its records. This request was ignored.
B. The January Cycle
The next cycle began on January 16, 2001, and concluded on the 21 st. At the first session the defense again requested access to documents at the ICDS as well as lifting of the travel ban on the accused. Once again the court did not respond to either request.
The prosecution's case was largely based on interrogation of the defendants during their 45-day period of detention. However, none of the persons who was interrogated was presented as a witness. The sole prosecution witness was Nasser Mohyieddin, the state security officer in the Office of the Prosecutor who prepared the case. His testimony was highly rhetorical, especially when alluding to the charge of defamation of the state. Mohyieddin claimed that the ICDS board of directors was a facade behind which Ibrahim completely controlled its operations, manipulated the staff, and transferred funds to his own bank account. Charges of bribery and fraud were based upon an alleged confession made during the interrogation of one of the defendants (again
Since the delegates did not attend the November and the January trial sessions this information comes from discussions in Cairo, from The Cairo Times, and from on-line sources.
without the presence of a lawyer). The defendant subsequently denied this “confession” and wrote to the court to report that his interrogation was conducted under circumstances of duress. The prosecutor also claimed that grant funds provided by the European Commission (EC) were misused. The defense introduced a statement from the EC affirming that “both the Ibn Khaldun Center and the League of Egyptian Women Voters (HODA) 2 projects were the subject of external mid-term audits whose reports gave no cause for concern, financial or otherwise.” To this Mohyieddin replied, “The state doesn't wait for complaints but carries out its own investigative work and cares about the image in the community of states.” Under cross-examination Mohyieddin reiterated the charges filed in his report. With regard to work of the ICDS on electoral oversight, Mohyieddin said, “Ibrahim criticizes the conduct of elections in Egypt and presents himself as rectifying the situation. But the elections were fully supervised by the judiciary. They don't need Saad Eddin Ibrahim to monitor them.” No other prosecution witnesses testified at that session of the trial
The defense was able to establish that ICDS is a private company that pays taxes to the government and not a non-governmental organization subject to Military Decree No. 4/1992, which prohibits the receipt of any foreign funding without the authorization of the minister of social affairs. There is a general suspicion within some segments of the Egyptian population, and even within the government, that foreign funding is somehow “subversive” to the interests of the state. Yet, as Dr. Mohammed Al Gohari, former president of Helwan University, explained in his testimony, “If it were not for foreign funding for scientific and social research in Egypt, we wouldn't have any. Eighty percent of such research is externally bankrolled.”
At subsequent sessions the defense presented seven character witnesses, many of whom had held high positions in the government. All testified to Dr. Ibrahim's professional qualifications and work as well as his unquestionable loyalty to Egypt. As reported in The Cairo Times, these witnesses painted a portrait of Ibrahim as “Egypt's and the Arab world's most prominent social scientist, an engaged intellectual who applies theory to pressing social problems and works closely with government personnel to present a proud image of Egypt abroad. Dr. Saad Ibrahim is to social science as Ahmad Zuwail (Egyptian Nobel laureate in chemistry at California Institute of Technology) and Magdi Yaqoub (London-based heart surgeon) are to the natural and medical sciences. ” Among the prestigious character witnesses were a law professor who is a former minister of information and a current board member of ICDS, the former president of Helwan University and ICDS board member, a (retired) major general from the army and ICDS
The League of Egyptian Women Voters was closed by the Security Police at the same time as the ICDS. Dr. Ibrahim is one of the founders and acts as treasurer of the organization. Both HODA and the ICDS received money from the European Commission for separate projects. Otherwise they are not connected.
board member, a former vice president of the World Bank, a former Egyptian ambassador to the United Kingdom, and the director of the state affiliated Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
C. The February Cycle
The CHR's delegates attended the trial sessions on February 17, 18, and 19, 2001. Each day the hour at which the next session would begin was set. The press, spectators, and lawyers arrived up to one hour early so as to secure seating, but each day the trial started two hours later than the time for which it had been scheduled. The defendants were placed in a cage at the side of the courtroom. Each person admitted to the court was required to show identification and pass through a metal detector. There was extensive press coverage. The press crowded to the front of the courtroom aiming still and TV cameras and placing tape recorders on the railing separating the three judges and the two prosecutors from the defense lawyers and audience. The courtroom was crowded. However, behind the railing the prosecution was given ample space with worktables and direct access to the judges. The half dozen or so lawyers for the defense were crowded into the first row of seats with the spectators and press. Whenever the court declared a recess, the prosecuting lawyers exited with the judges.
To those accustomed to western law courts, the situation in the Egyptian court seemed disorganized, even chaotic. A spokesperson for the court did announce at the beginning of the session that no one should smoke and that personal cell phones should be turned off. The chief judge at times had to use stem language to enforce these rules as well as to order most of the press to the back of the courtroom. A court clerk was present to make a handwritten, official transcript of the proceedings. The delegates were told that plain-clothed representatives from the state security police were among those making a video and audio transcript of the proceedings. The delegates also noted that photographs were taken of the spectators and were told that additional surveillance of visitors, especially foreign visitors, was routine. The defense had no choice but to make its own video and audio record of the sessions to assure that its information was complete. Subsequently, when the defense requested access to the official court records of the prosecution's oral arguments, the judges ruled without explanation and contrary to precedent, that the court records could be viewed only at the courthouse and that they could neither be photocopied nor removed from the building.
Egyptian trials, except those related to state terrorism, are open to the public. The spectators at the Ibrahim trial appeared to be his family and friends as well as family and friends of the other 27 defendants. The European Union sent embassy observers to every trial session on a rotating basis. At various sessions observers from the German, Swedish, and Belgian embassies were present. Dr. Michelle Dunne, first secretary for human rights and civil law at the U.S. Embassy, was present at every session and helped the CHR 's delegates by translating significant portions of the prosecution 's presentation.
In February the CHR's delegates were the only observers representing international human rights organizations. The prosecution's presentation of its case, during roughly two-hour sessions on each of the three days of the trial, followed a similar pattern. Most of the presentations were long and generalized with few specifics offered. The CHR's delegates were told, however, that the prosecution had already presented its case to the judges in written form. The delegates were unable to determine whether this written presentation was also given to the lawyers for the defense but later learned that it was made available after payment of a large copying fee. On numerous occasions the defense has requested access to prosecution evidence, records of the ICDS, and testimony collected by the prosecution during the interrogations of the defendants. Some access was granted, but for reading purposes only. This access was always under the very close supervision and observation of the prosecutors and only at times that were convenient for the prosecutors. No copies of documents have been given to the defense nor has it been permitted to make photocopies for its use.
The following quote from one of the principal prosecutors, Ashraf Helal, (source: The Cairo Times, Volume 4, Issue 49, 22-28 February 2001, pg. 8:) is included here to illustrate the type of rhetoric used by the prosecution.
It is a shame that the name of the 8th century Arab social scientist [Ibn Khaldun] is now being bandied about in Egyptian courtrooms and used as a front for nefarious purposes. We are before a group of people who are outcasts from society and who have used every form of fraud and deception .... This professor of sociology sank in the mud of greed. Why? Has the love of money and greed reached this level? It does not matter that the European Union is a foreign entity. Fraud is fraud and this nation cannot accept one of its sons be a swindler and cheat. On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with the agreement between the European Union and the Ibn Khaldun Center, but in reality it was used as a front to embezzle money and draft imaginary budgets ... You felt your wrong, oh doctor, and tried to hide the evidence but God cannot be fooled ... Nadia Abdel Nour [a co-defendant] is an exception to the kindness for which her people who hail from the sister Sudan are famed. She succeeded in forming with Saad a successful duo in deception and both were then able to recruit accomplices. Wouldn't it have been better for them to spare us this? We had hoped that Dr. Saad would follow the straight path of this nation's scientists. The public prosecution is dismayed as is society by this man's actions, and we marvel at how he hides behind slogans. What human rights do you speak of? The right to steal, bribe, and damage the state's dignity? How many crocodile tears have been shed over the alleged abuses of human rights? They have sowed destruction in the land.
It is unclear whether the fact that Dr. Ibrahim holds dual Egyptian and U.S. citizenship will have implications for his case. On several occasions the state prosecutors
have inferred in their court presentations that he has “dual loyalty,” but they have generally refrained from outright condemnation of his dual citizenship. The United States gives Egypt some $2 billion a year in military and economic aid under the 1979 Israel/Egypt Peace Accord, and a large reservoir of good will exists in Egypt for the United States, although deteriorating conditions in the Palestinian territories are creating a rising wave of anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments in Egypt.
In all of the sessions the defense had very few comments except to protest what it considered to be defamatory statements and exaggerated rhetoric. The trial was adjourned until mid April 2001, when defense arguments are scheduled.
E. The April Cycle 3
On April 14 and 15 five defense lawyers for Dr. Ibrahim undertook the task of discrediting the prosecution's case. As with the prosecution 's presentation, there were no witnesses to testify and be cross examined. However, the defense lawyers mounted a barrage of rebuttals of the prosecution's vague claims and a spirited defense of Dr. Ibrahim's reputation. Using rhetoric against the rhetoric of the prosecution in February, they countered the prosecution's invective with demonstrations of Ibrahim's accomplishments, by saying that his status is that of the Arab world's premier social scientist and describing his work as a consultant for international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank.
Some flavor of the defense presentation can be gleaned from the following quotes taken from the Cairo Times.
Why must it be that he who speaks the truth gets maligned and defamed? Dr. Saad was the only one in the Arab world chosen by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as a consultant. How is it that this person would sit around agreeing with four others to bribe public employees?
Saad could not stop at the red lines that some draw for the people so as not to cross. He spoke out about two taboos that no one is allowed to broach, religious conflict and raising the status of the Egyptian voter. . . . Would he be standing behind these bars today if he was one of those who blindly cheered and clapped their hands?
In the one instance where the prosecution claimed to have concrete evidence—the forging of voting cards found by the security police in Dr. Ibrahim's house—the defense argued that they were planted by an employee of HODA who had requested permission to
Cairo Times, Vol. 5 #7, 19-25 April 2001.
leave “important papers” at his house on the day before his arrest. They pointed out that the security police knew exactly where to find the “evidence” and that the employee in question was not detained by the security police and was the only one who consistently condemned Ibrahim during interrogation. The lawyers also argued that the real problem is the plethora of emergency legislation governing the country. “What truly harms Egypt 's reputation are not sociological studies but being ruled by emergency law for 21 years where military decrees have become a way to circumvent the rule of law.”
The CHR's delegates interviewed Dr. Ibrahim and his wife, Dr. Barbara Ibrahim —before and after the February trial cycle—and six knowledgeable supporters of Dr. Ibrahim, who were very helpful in providing the CHR's delegates with information for this report and during the trial process. The delegates also interviewed Dr. Michelle Dunne of the U.S. Embassy before, after, and during the trial. Dr. Dunne was very helpful in explaining what had gone on during the trial, outlining the prosecution's arguments, and providing some interpretation during the trial. The delegates also met with Ambassador Shadia Farrag, the deputy assistant foreign minister for human rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Although Ambassador Farrag requested meetings for the CHR's delegates with H.E. Farouq Mahmoud Seif El-Nasr, the minister of justice, and with the prosecutor general of Egypt, H.E. Maher Abdel Wahid, officials of that ministry, who certainly realized that the duration of the mission was limited, declined to make time available even though the delegates contacted them repeatedly by telephone during their final three days in Cairo to request meetings.
The discussion with Ambassador Farrag was cordial. As was anticipated, the position taken by the Ambassador was that the case of Dr. Ibrahim was in the courts and therefore no official of the government could comment on it. She expressed confidence in the fairness and openness of the Egyptian judicial system. To illustrate this sense of fairness, she emphasized the fact that the court has allowed the defendants freedom on bail while the court hears the case. She stated that even after a verdict is rendered the defendants would have right of appeal on both procedural grounds and on the basis of evidence presented by the prosecution. Other knowledgeable sources with whom the CHR 's delegates spoke told them that she was misinformed, and that any case before the State Security Court may be appealed only on procedural grounds. The delegates acknowledged with appreciation the opportunity to meet with Ambassador Farrag and thanked her for her overtures to secure appointments for them in the Ministry of Justice.
Persistent telephoning by the CHR's delegates eventually got them lengthy telephone interviews with Ministry of Justice officials, the Chief Prosecutor in the Office of the Prosecutor General, Dr. Hany Fathy, and with Dr. Adel Samte in the Department of International Cultural Cooperation. The discussions were not very different from those which the delegates had with Ambassador Farrag. These contacts were pursued to
emphasize the fact of the delegates' presence in Cairo and at the trial. The Ibrahims and their supporters considered this effort to have been a useful exercise.
VI. Effects of the Prosecution on the Human Rights and Civil Society Community in Egypt
Professor Ibrahim has been influential among the intelligentsia of Egyptian society and has had access to the highest levels of government. His arrest has had a chilling effect on those promoting civil and human rights. To quote one individual whom the delegates interviewed, “If it [arrest and charges] could happen to Professor Saad Eddin Ibrahim, it could happen to anybody.” The CHR's delegates encountered this atmosphere of intimidation themselves when attempting to recruit a translator-interpreter from among the students at the American University in Cairo. Their contact at the university reported that the students who were approached were uncomfortable about the potential consequences of becoming involved in this case.
Perhaps the most negative effect of the prosecution to date has been on the small, but once quite active, human rights organizations and private research groups in Egypt. After the arrest of Professor Ibrahim, the board of the Egyptian Human Rights Organization voted to return at least some of its foreign grants, close down offices in space rented with these grant funds, and give members of its paid staff leave of absence. The ICDS and a parallel organization, the League of Egyptian Women Voters, were closed by the state security police at the time of the arrests and remain closed to board members and staff. It is uncertain whether, or when, they will be permitted to reopen and how severely longer-term operations could be curtailed. According to most knowledgeable observers, self-censorship in the human rights community has increased dramatically. However, some exceptionally courageous individuals continue to speak out on human rights issues, organize public meetings, and publish their views in the press.
No matter what the outcome of the trial of Dr. Ibrahim and his colleagues, the outlook for the development of a healthy civil society in Egypt appears to be growing dimmer. The accusations against Dr. Ibrahim and the closing of the Center are symptomatic of an increasingly less tolerant attitude towards those working to promote democracy and the growth of civil society. Indeed, by selecting for prosecution a person as highly esteemed as Dr. Ibrahim, the government appears to be sending a clear message to all those in Egypt who are working towards those ends, i.e. that there will be little tolerance of them and their activities.