Egypt: protests continue; White House weighs in

More protests in Cairo, where last week when 255 people were arrested. Today, thousands of riot police and hundreds of plainclothes officers were deployed in streets leading to the courthouse in downtown Cairo as they attempted to prevent opposition activists from gathering. At issue are arrests and prosecution of opposition activists, and demands for an independent judiciary. Does the below story from the Washington Post (May 18) indicate that arrested opposition figure Ayman Nour is the neocons’ man—as opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood?

White House Criticizes Egypt Over Protests
WASHINGTON — The White House on Thursday urged Egypt to set free a leading opposition politician and activists imprisoned for demonstrating for greater democracy under U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak.

A statement released while President Bush traveled in Arizona raised concerns about the Egyptian president’s commitment to reforms and cited the detention of Ayman Nour, the runner-up in last year’s presidential elections.

A court on Thursday rejected Nour’s appeal, meaning he will have to serve a five-year prison sentence on forgery charges he says are intended to eliminate him from politics.

Mubarak’s government should “act in the spirit of its professed desire for increased political openness and dialogue within Egyptian society by releasing Mr. Nour and protesters who have been detained,” the White House said.

In Cairo on Thursday, police beat pro-reform protesters in the streets and arrested more than 300 for the second week in a row.

“We are concerned as well by the harsh tactics employed by Egyptian authorities against citizens peacefully demonstrating on behalf of Mr. Nour and political reform,” the White House said.

The Bush administration urged restraint by the Egyptian government and appealed for demonstrations to go ahead “by those peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and expression.”

The administration called for Nour’s case, which has strained U.S. ties with its Mideast ally, to be reconsidered after his conviction in December.

The statement said the U.S. “is deeply troubled by the continued prosecution and imprisonment” of Nour and by reports that he has been prevented from writing while in prison and that diplomats have not been permitted to visit him.

Egyptian officials deny the government is retreating from reforms and Mubarak has urged patience. Last year during the election, Mubarak promised political and constitutional changes, including ending emergency laws that activists say are used to stifle opposition.

Since then, emergency laws have been extended, municipality elections have been postponed and hundreds of activists have been arrested.

See our last post on Egypt.