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Activists say Egyptian Reform Setback by Opposition Leader's Arrest

An Egyptian court Monday jailed the head of the newly formed al-Ghad Party for at least 45 days, following allegations he forged nearly 2,000 signatures to secure a license for his party.

Egyptian parliament member 45-year-old Ayman Nour was arrested Saturday in Cairo after the parliament voted to remove his government immunity.

Mr. Nour vehemently denies the allegations. His wife, Gamila, who is also a member of the al-Ghad Party, says the arrest and detention of her husband is intended to, as she put it, kill any hope of bringing reform to Egypt.

"This case is a political case. It is a dirty political conspiracy against the al-Ghad party, as the most powerful opposition party in Egypt now," she said. "And, a very, very big conspiracy against reform and a big threat to anybody who would ever dare think of changing anything in this country."

The al-Ghad party, which says it has at least 15,000 registered members, including prominent political figures in Egypt, was legally established in October. Among other things, the party calls for an amendment to the Egyptian constitution that would allow more than one candidate to run for the presidency.

Egypt holds presidential referendums in which people vote yes or no for a single candidate. Such a referendum will be held later this year in which President Hosni Mubarak is expected to seek his fifth, six-year term in office.

According to al-Ghad Party Secretary General Mona Makhram Ebeid, the party will continue.

She says an emergency session of the party will be held and protests are planned for Wednesday. She says the arrest of Mr. Nour is a serious setback for democracy in Egypt.

"It is an immense blow. It is unexpected," said Ms. Ebeid. "And, is has dampened all our thoughts for reform. It has dampened all our aspirations that Egypt would really, one day, lead the Arab world into a transition into a real democracy, real multi-party system and real respect of human rights."

Ms. Ebeid says the arrest of Mr. Nour becomes politically more significant in the aftermath of free and democratic elections in Iraq and the Palestinian territories.

Mr. Nour suffers from heart problems and diabetes. Monday, he was quoted as telling investigators that he was pushed to the ground and struck in the right eye during his arrest. He also said he was interrogated for eight hours, in violation of international human-rights agreements.

The State Department has expressed concern, and has asked the Egyptian government to monitor Mr. Nour's health.