By Kate Augusto, Danielle Capalbo and Nick Mendez
Cairo, EGYPT – Leading political dissident Ayman Nour, who challenged President Hosni Mubarak in the country’s first democratic elections in 2005, announced yesterday his plans to voluntarily finish a four-year prison sentence that ended prematurely.
“It’s my final decision,” he said from his apartment in Zamalek, a trendy district just outside downtown Cairo.
The Egyptian government released Nour in February, four months ahead of schedule, citing health considerations. In well-publicized bouts of protest, Nour sometimes went on hunger strikes despite being diabetic.
Nour was convicted in December 2005 with forging the signatures he needed to register his liberal opposition party, Al-Ghad, for the elections earlier that year.
Soft-spoken and sitting with folded arms against one side of a long couch, Nour yesterday told a small group of American student journalists from Northeastern University of his plan to return to jail. He said his release was a symbolic – and misleading – gesture by the Egyptian government to demonstrate its commitment to democracy. Nour said he was hours from contacting the government with news of his decision.
Nour said his prison stay was far less difficult than what he has experienced since his release. In these four months, he said, the government has denied him basic rights, including practicing law, his primary profession, as well as opening a bank account.
Nour said he achieved more in his four years in prison than his 10 years in parliament.
Nour entered the meeting with the students later than scheduled, apologetic yet visibly upset by the Supreme Constitutional Court’s recent decision to freeze Al-Ghad’s political activity by bringing a trial against them. Nour said he is unclear on the details of the trial. He heard the news just hours earlier.
Nour estimated that during the contentious election four years ago, Mubarak, president since the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat, couldn’t have won more than 10 percent of the country’s vote, but still resumed power. He explained that while official reports said Nour finished second, the votes were never properly counted in some regions.
Conflicting accounts arose after the election, first that Nour reaped 25 percent of the vote, then 10 percent, then less. The government wasn’t concerned with the actual results, but instead what Mubarak wanted to hear, Nour said.
If Mubarak even allows Nour to go back to prison, the dissident may serve an indefinite period of time, said Denis Sullivan, a Northeastern professor on sabbatical in Cairo and Middle East studies expert. Sullivan was at the meeting yesterday with Northeastern students.
While Nour said his decision is final, his son insists the topic is still up for discussion.
“As the son, I am prepared to turn this house into a prison to keep him here,” said his 21-year-old-son Noor, half-jokingly. “This is proof we’re a democratic household.”