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Egyptian Activist's Wife Questions US Aid Decision - 2002-08-22

The wife of democracy activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who was sentenced recently by an Egyptian court to seven years in prison, says the U.S. decision to oppose additional aid to Egypt in response to her husband's sentencing could complicate his appeal.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim was convicted this month of defaming Egypt in a series of articles about Christian-Muslim relations and of illegally accepting foreign funds to monitor Egypt's 1995 parliamentary elections. He was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Mr. Ibrahim, who holds both Egyptian and U.S. citizenship, said he plans to appeal. It is a process that could take well over a year.

Last Thursday, the U.S. government said it would oppose any additional aid for Egypt to protest Mr. Ibrahim's imprisonment. Egypt receives about $2 billion a year from the United States. The media here said the Bush administration's decision pointed to deteriorating relations between the two countries. Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said no foreign entity had the right to interfere in Egypt's judicial system.

Mr. Ibrahim's wife, Barbara, told VOA she sees the issue as a troubling sign of American disillusionment with Egyptian policies. "It pains us very much to see a rift in relations between these two countries," she said. "On the other hand, my husband's case has dragged on for over two years. There have been multiple opportunities for it to go away, as it should have a long time ago, and, instead, he was re-sentenced for another seven year period. I presume that what you're seeing is a frustration on the part of the major donor to this country that what it thought were shared principles of democratic opening and the allowing of dissent have been violated, and violated repeatedly."

However, Mrs. Ibrahim, who was born in the United States, says the Bush policy may have a negative impact on her husband's appeal. "In the short term, it could make his case more complicated," she said. "In other words, we've been waiting for the moment when someone in a position of authority weighs all of this up and decides that the harm that's being done to the country far outweighs any benefit anyone could be receiving by keeping him incarcerated. It makes it harder to come to that conclusion when it will appear one was caving in to superpower pressure."

Several Egyptian publications this week said Mr. Ibrahim indicated he would reject all foreign intervention on his behalf. Mrs. Ibrahim says those stories were untrue. She says her husband understands why the Bush administration might take such action. "In the end of the day, this aid money belongs to U.S. taxpayers," she said. "It doesn't belong to any other country. And that aid is given or withdrawn according to a set of shared principles between the two parties. I think Saad is completely understanding of what's happened, and in the long run, it's going to stimulate a much needed debate."

Even so, she says, her preference would have been to allow the appeal process to proceed. "If you had asked me a week ago my preference - although no one certainly did - I might have said that the quieter route might make it easier for the right thing to happen here," said Barbara Ibrahim. "But the fact of the matter is, it did happen, and I'm not going to denounce it."

Mrs. Ibrahim says her husband is being treated well. He receives mail, and, she says, he has a fan in his prison cell. Mr. Ibrahim suffers from a neurological disorder that requires him to take 14 different medications each day.