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US Opposition to Foreign Aid for Egypt Could Damage Relations - 2002-08-15

The Washington Post newspaper reports President Bush will oppose any new foreign aid to Egypt as a protest of the government's prosecution of human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim and its treatment of pro-democracy organizations.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim is a 63-year-old college professor in Cairo and one of Egypt's most outspoken human rights activists.

On July 29, he was convicted in an Egyptian state security court of defaming Egypt in a report about Muslim-Christian relations. He was also found guilty of illegally accepting foreign funds to monitor parliamentary elections. Mr. Ibrahim, who holds both Egyptian and U.S. citizenship, was sentenced to seven years in prison.

At the conclusion of Mr. Ibrahim's retrial, U.S. officials said publicly they were deeply disappointed with the decision. Human rights groups complained the verdict was politically motivated. The U.S. State Department said it would review the case.

Thursday, The Washington Post, quoting a White House official, said President Bush plans to oppose any new foreign aid to Egypt to protest Mr. Ibrahim's prosecution.

The newspaper said President Bush plans to inform Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak of his decision in writing. The Post reported U.S. officials were counting on the Mubarak government to find a way to free the activist, possibly on medical grounds. Mr. Ibrahim suffers from a neurological disorder.

Abdel Moneim Said is the head of the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. He says he is a close friend of Mr. Ibrahim and testified on his behalf during his trial. But Mr. Said said, as much as he would like to see his friend released from prison, the Bush administration will harm Egyptian-American relations if it intends to threaten President Mubarak with economic consequences in an effort to win the release of Mr. Ibrahim.

"I don't think the Egyptian government will budge for this because it is a process. It's still in the courts. It's still in the judicial system," he said. "I don't think that the president [Mubarak] will budge for it and his rejection, I think, will be also be another slap in the face of the United States and most likely it will lead to a period of tension in the Egyptian-American relations."

Mr. Said said if President Bush wants to apply pressure on the Egyptian government he should do so privately, not publicly.

He said, given the tension that exists throughout the region, now is not the time for President Bush to be publicly applying pressure on one of its long-time allies.

Egypt is regarded by the United States as a close ally and key peace partner in the Middle East. It receives about $2 billion a year in U.S. aid.