CAIRO // After more than three years in an Egyptian prison, the opposition leader Ayman Nour could be forgiven for taking a step back from the political spotlight. But nine months since his release, on the ground of poor health, he has been fighting battles on several fronts against political opponents and a government he believes is trying to stamp out his political ambitions.
The Al-Ghad leader, who stood against the country's long-time president, Hosni Mubarak, in a 2005 election, is fighting to regain his civil rights, taken away from him as a result of his conviction for forgery in the same year. Recently he has even been forced to defend himself against attacks from fellow opposition forces. "I'm appealing to God to get me my rights back against all those rumours, lies and oppression," Mr Nour said in an interview on Monday. "There has been heated determination in the past few days to morally assassinate me through an organised campaign, from different directions."
He said the last week has been particularly tough, adding: "Not that I had any easy day since I got out of prison in February". On Friday, Egyptian authorities barred him from travelling to the United States, saying the conditions of his early release from prison do not permit him to travel abroad except for medical treatment. Mr Nour was invited to give speeches and meet Egyptian expatriates and members of the US Congress in several states.
Another setback emerged this week when Abdel Halim Qandil, founder of the Kefay, or Enough, an opposition movement, withdrew from the Egyptian Campaign Against Tawreeth, or the inheritance of power from Mr Mubarak, 81, to his son Gamal, 45. Mr Nour launched the campaign in October. Mr Qandil said the reason for pulling out was Mr Nour's "close ties with the American Embassy in Cairo as well as suspicious American organisations".
Sitting under a large painting of himself, Fathi Serour, the speaker of parliament and other prominent legislators, the 44-year-old lamented the lack of support he has received in recent days. "I haven't heard a single voice defending my constitutional right to travel, no one is objecting against governmental insistence of my right to work and have an income, to be able to sell my inheritance to be able to live, to regain my political rights, to live like a human being who needs work, income, freedom movement inside and outside his country," he said.
Mr Nour has always been a controversial figure in Egyptian politics, seen as a troublemaker and intentionally provocative to other politicians and, lately, some opposition figures. He made his fame by being a vocal critic of the government, pressing ministers with tough questions, especially about torture and emergency laws. He was the youngest member of parliament when elected in 1995. In 2005, he ran against Mr Mubarak in the country's first presidential elections, coming a distant second. His fall from power continued with the loss of his seat in parliament in elections that year.
Then, on December 24, 2005, he was sentenced to five years in prison for forging powers of attorney to bring about the formation of Al-Ghad, meaning Tomorrow - charges he has always denied. He was released on February 18. Under Egyptian law, which designates fraud as a dishonourable crime, Mr Nour is barred from taking any political role or running in any elections for five years. He was dismissed from the lawyers syndicate for the same reason, meaning he cannot return to work in the legal profession.
Mr Nour is busy legally contesting the hurdles he has faced, however, this has not stopped him from touring the country. He had just come back from Alexandria at dawn on Monday, and he spent a few days before that in upper Egypt. His tour is a "knocking doors campaign" to get in direct contact with people to know their needs first hand. "People's love that I meet with in all provinces is amazing," he said. "It's the only retribution I got, and what keeps me going and not despairing.
"Otherwise I feel very lonely, after my wife left, and my two adolescent sons are busy with their lives," Mr Nour said. Gamila Ismail, Mr Nour's wife for 20 years, separated from him in early April. She had campaigned for his release and led protests against the Mubarak administration throughout his trial and until he was released. While in prison, Mr Nour's party splintered, with a different wing calling itself al-Ghad, and contesting to be recognised. The move led to clashes and the burning of the party's headquarters a year ago.
"The prison didn't manage to obliterate me from political life," he said. "I will remain determined to regain my rights and play my role, its no longer my choice, but my destiny, to fight the injustice I'm still facing. "If I give up now, it will amount to treason, and I have no intention to betray my principles and people who trust me." firstname.lastname@example.org