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Bush Administration Protests Sentencing of Egyptian Democracy Activist - 2002-08-15

The Bush administration says it will oppose any additional U.S. aid to Egypt, to protest the Cairo government's treatment of democracy activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim. Mr. Ibrahim, who has Egyptian and U.S. citizenship, was sentenced to seven years in prison late last month in a trial condemned as political by human rights groups.

The decision will not affect the nearly $2 billion in economic and military aid the United States has given Egypt annually, since it made peace with Israel more than two decades ago.

However the administration is ruling out any supplemental help to underscore its deep concern over the treatment of Mr. Ibrahim, an academic who had criticized the Egyptian government's conduct of elections and treatment of Coptic Christians.

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker says Egypt's charge d'affaires in Washington was called in to the State Department Thursday to be informed of the policy move. Mr. Reeker adds the case of Mr. Ibrahim has been raised with officials in Egypt at the "very highest" levels:

"We've met in Cairo with senior Egyptian officials to convey our continuing concern regarding the verdict in that case, and the serious questions it raises regarding progress toward greater political freedom in Egypt," he said. "We've followed the case very closely. We press our concerns with the Egyptian authorities in the hope of seeing Dr. Ibrahim's release. As you know, our ambassador and consular officials in Cairo visit Dr. Ibrahim on a regular basis and we're going to maintain consular access. That included a visit to Dr. Ibrahim today."

The 63-year-old Mr. Ibrahim, a professor at the American University in Cairo, had been in trouble with Egyptian authorities since 1995, when a research center he ran complained that elections that year were not free and fair.

He was arrested while preparing to monitor the 2000 parliamentary elections and convicted a year later of tarnishing Egypt's image abroad and misusing funds provided by the European Union, a charge rejected as unfounded by the EU itself.

An appeals court re-affirmed the original verdict and prison sentence July 29. The State Department at the time said it was "deeply disappointed" by the court decision, though the administration later came under criticism from U.S. newspaper columnists and others for its seemingly-mild reaction to the verdict.

Officials here insist the administration was active behind-the-scenes on behalf of Mr. Ibrahim, and said they still hold out hope Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would use executive powers to free him. However officials in Cairo say the legal case is still going through the legal system, and Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher told reporters the government will not give in to pressure.

Egypt has been receiving U.S. aid on rough parity with that granted to Israel. And Egyptian officials were understood to have been lobbying for supplemental aid after a recent congressional vote to give Israel $200 million in anti-terrorism funds.

Administration officials stress that Egypt remains a U.S. ally and strong partner in regional peace efforts but that new aid is "out of the question" because of the Ibrahim case.