Egypt frees opposition leader Ayman Nour

Analysts said the move could be aimed at gaining favour with the new administration of U.S. President Barack Obama.

Egypt frees opposition leader Ayman Nour

Egyptian authorities unexpectedly freed opposition politician Ayman Nour on Wednesday after more than three years of imprisonment on forgery charges he said were politically motivated.

Analysts said the move could be aimed at gaining favour with the new administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, but doubted that it would herald an era of democratic reforms in the most populous Arab country.

"Thanks to God I am released," Nour told Reuters by telephone from his home in Cairo. "I am in my house. That is the only thing I know now."

Prosecution sources said Nour, the main challenger to Hosni Mubarak in Egypt's first multi-candidate presidential election in 2005, had been freed on "health grounds". His release came as a surprise to his wife Gameela Ismail, who has worked tirelessly for his freedom.

"I don't believe it ... We are all in shock. It is also very confusing," she said, adding that she had rushed home on learning of his release. "When I entered I found him praying."

Nour vowed to continue his work in politics through his liberal opposition Ghad party, and his wife said he planned to resume his role at the helm of the party.

"I am going to practise my role as a politician through the Ghad party and through my previous role," he added. Egyptian law prohibits him from seeking public office barring a presidential pardon.

"New beginning"

Members of Nour's family and many of his friends flocked to his home in an affluent Cairo neighbourhood to celebrate his release. Some family members were crying. Nour later gave brief interviews to the media, appearing in a dark blue suit and an orange tie. He said his release was a surprise even to him.

The 44-year-old lawyer had been serving a five-year jail term after being convicted on fraud charges shortly after he came a distant second to Mubarak in the 2005 vote.

Some analysts have said the government wanted Nour out of politics to pave the way for Mubarak's son Gamal, who is close in age to Nour, to eventually succeed his father as president.

Nour says the charges against him were fabricated to punish him for daring to challenge Mubarak, in power since 1981. Cairo says its judiciary is "independent" and its rulings are "not politically motivated".

Washington applauded the release.

"It is to be welcomed. It is something we have called for some time," State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said.

Analysts noted that the release came shortly after a meeting in Washington between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

"Maybe now they want to start on a new footing with the Obama administration before it starts shaping its policy on all Middle Eastern issues," said Issandr el-Amrani, Egypt analyst at the International Crisis Group think tank.

But several analysts said the release was only "symbolic" because Nour did not pose any serious threat to Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

Amr El-Choubaki, an analyst with the state-funded Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, said the government was unlikely to take any measures to improve its human rights record or allow more political participation.

"All indicators show that (Egypt) is poised for more restrictions until the government wins the next legislative elections by an overwhelming majority and the candidate of the NDP wins the presidential elections in 2011," he said.


Last Mod: 19 Şubat 2009, 12:55
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