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Former political prisoners react to Mubarak in the cage

For many of Egypt's political prisoners, seeing the same elite officials who manipulated the system to stifle dissent and promote their interests end up facing trial or in prison is bittersweet.

Egyptian-American academic, political opposition and human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, arrives at Cairo airport late on August 4, 2010, despite an outstanding prison sentence against him for defaming Egypt and spending three years in exile.
Egyptian-American academic, political opposition and human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, arrives at Cairo airport late on August 4, 2010, despite an outstanding prison sentence against him for defaming Egypt and spending three years in exile.

CAIRO // One night during his jailing on trumped up charges in 2005, when Mr Mubarak reigned unchallenged, Mr Nour dreamed of the dictator getting his comeuppance in prison.

"He was sick and his legs were amputated," Mr Nour recalled. "The prison guards were treating him in a very bad manner. I remembered that I decided to help him. This was no way for someone to be treated. They were killing him."

Another dream, sometime later, featured Mr Mubarak's son Gamal and business tycoon Ahmed Ezz, as his prison guards.

Years later, the dreams appear almost portentous. The same cell where Mr Nour was held in isolation for four years in Tora Prison on the outskirts of Cairo has been prepared for Mr Mubarak if he is deemed healthy enough to leave the military hospital where he is now being held. The trial, in which Mr Mubarak is accused of corruption and responsibility for the deaths of protesters during the revolution, resumes tomorrow. The six-by-three metre cell with six beds, three toilets and a bathtub, was separated from other prisoners and used for the sick or those considered to be politically sensitive. Mr Nour was the latter. As a presidential candidate from the Al Ghad party and prominent critic of the regime, he said he was targeted by the state security apparatus. He says he was imprisoned on bogus charges of forgery related to the formation of the political party.

He was eventually released on medical grounds, but Mr Nour successfully lobbied in writing for an Egyptian court to retry the case so that he can have a fresh chance to argue his innocence.

While in prison, Mr Nour spent 20 hours of each day inside his cell, reading much of the time. He imagines if Mr Mubarak ends up in the cell, he would learn about the depths of loneliness. There is only a view of the mosque in the prison yard to look at from the cell window.

For many of Egypt's political prisoners, seeing the same elite officials who manipulated the system to stifle dissent and promote their interests end up facing trial or in prison is bittersweet. A sense of justice finally being served is toned down by the belief that no person should undergo the type of harsh treatment they endured during their incarceration.

"It feels like divine justice," said Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the director of the Cairo-based Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, which focuses on democratisation and the role of civil society.

Both of Mr Mubarak's sons are incarcerated in the same cell where Mr Ibrahim was held at Tora Prison from 2000 to 2003 for using foreign aid funds for election monitoring and making remarks that hurt Egypt's reputation.

He learned they were staying in his former cell when a prison guard, whom Mr Ibrahim had nicknamed the "evil one", left a message at his home in Maddi with the news. The cell was reportedly outfitted with bunk beds so the brothers could be together.

"He was my prison guard; now he is the prison guard of Gamal and Alaa," said Mr Ibrahim.

During his incarceration, Mr Ibrahim said he was subjected to sleep deprivation and for long stretches had no access to books or adequate health care. "Before I was imprisoned, I used to run for an hour every day in Maadi," he said. "I left in a wheelchair."

Still, watching the first day of Mr Mubarak's trial did not bring the complete relief he expected. Mr Ibrahim was an outspoken critic of the Mubarak regime, especially plans to have Gamal Mubarak take the reigns from his father in a transition of power. But he was also the thesis adviser in sociology to Suzanne Mubarak in sociology, the former first lady, and a professor to the sons at the American University of Cairo. He had met the president several times to advise on policy issues.

"I felt a bit sorry that they brought all of this on themselves," he said. "Had he ceded power early in the revolution, he could have entered history cordially, if not discourteously. But this is the problem with dictators from this region. They don't know when to leave."

If there was one thing for certain, Mr Ibrahim said, it is that presidents and leaders across the entire region watched Mr Mubarak utter "I entirely deny all these accusations" before judge Ahmed Rifaat on August 3. The case marked a sweeping moment in history for the Arab world.

"Every ruler in the region must be calculating as they see Mubarak in this cage, facing charges," Mr Ibrahim said. "They are rethinking and re-evaluating everything so that they can avoid the same fate."

 

bhope@thenational.ae