Ayman Nour plans to return to prison, finish sentence
Ayman Nour compacted himself.
He was alone on the full-length couch, but Egypt’s leading political dissident pressed close against its right arm, then wrapped his own arms across his chest. Perhaps that kind of protective body language is natural from a man who spent four torturous years in prison for exercising the democracy his country falsely advertised.
The Egyptian government released Nour in February – four months ahead of schedule. In a country predicated on shallow symbols – from pervasive police with unloaded guns to metal detectors that beep in vain – Nour’s liberation fit the bill to a T. Which is why, he told us, hours before he told the government or the press at large, he’s going to voluntarily complete his prison sentence.
“He wants to expose the truth,” Nevenka explained. Thankfully, she translated the hour-long interview with Nour, a soft-spoken and reassuring presence amid a deeply corrupt political landscape. “Everything he went through in prison was almost nothing compared to what he experienced when he came out. … The government wanted to release him before the eyes of the international community, as proof of their commitment to democracy. But now, he is denied basic rights.”
An attorney by trade, for instance, Nour can’t practice law anymore. He can’t open a bank account, either.
“He won’t let the ruling party reap the benefits of his release,” she said.
Though Nour seemed inflexible – “It’s my final decision,” he confirmed in English – his family and colleagues said the verdict still hinges on a serious group discussion. In a frustrating sort of reversal, the government could also curb Nour’s plans – another way to save face by hamstringing Nour’s truth campaign and, ultimately, erasing the reality from view. If he doesn’t head back to prison, the public needs no explanation.
Nour was arrested in late 2005, after Egypt’s first “open” presidential elections, when he challenged President Hosni Mubarak on a self-made opposition ticket called Al-Ghad.
Official reports said Nour finished a distant second, but this afternoon, Nour said the votes were never even properly counted. (An unsurprising fact.) He explained the conflicting accounts that cropped up in the election’s aftermath: first, that he won 25 percent of the vote. Then 10 percent. Then eight or nine.
“[The government] wasn’t thinking about the results,” Nevenka said. “Just, ‘What can the president take hearing?’”
Nour estimated that Mubarak couldn’t have actually won more than 10 percent of the country’s votes. But of course, he resumed power. And Nour disappeared, convicted in December 2005 of forging signatures on the petitions he needed to register Al-Ghad in the first place.
In fact, Mubarak cut some logistical corners. By his own account, Nour showed up early the morning that political contenders had to officially put their names on the ballot. He stayed all day, and Mubarak never arrived. So Nour was assigned the number one and a crescent-shaped symbol (the way Egypt includes its vast illiterate population in the “democratic” process).
The day of the election, Mubarak was listed as number one. His symbol was a crescent.
“[With the notion of democracy, the National Democratic Party] is just pulling the wool over people’s eyes,” Nevenka translated. “They’re not sincere, and nobody believes that they’re sincere.”