Egypt government delivers twin blows to opposition party

14.jpgOne of Egypt’s most prominent secular opposition parties received two serious blows on Tuesday when a court declined to free its ailing leader Ayman Nur on health grounds and handed his job to a rival.

The Supreme Administrative Court rejected Nur’s long-standing request to be freed on medical grounds due to complications from diabetes, and the committee governing political parties made his rival Musa Mustafa Musa the new president.

“Suspending the legal status of the Ghad (Tomorrow) Party and the refusal to free Ayman Nur on medical grounds while US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was visiting sends a clear message,” said Nur’s wife and party vice president, Gameela Ismail.

Once a dynamic young politician who founded a liberal party, Nur was popular with Westerners calling for more democracy in Egypt. When he was first jailed in 2005, Rice sharply rebuked the government.

Nur went on to run against long-serving Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the country’s first open presidential elections where he came in a distant second. His party went on to splinter under infighting and the weight of a barrage of government-inspired lawsuits.

Musa, his chief financier, later led a rebellion against him and filed a case with the political parties committee, dominated by government figures, to name himself president.

Meanwhile, Nur was sentenced to five years in prison for forging the affidavits to found his party — a charge supporters say was trumped up.

In contrast to its vocal calls for change in the early years of the administration of George W. Bush, the United States has more recently reduced its pressure for reform in Egypt and the region.

Tuesday’s visit by Rice to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh is instead focussed on gaining Arab regimes’ support for US policies in the region.

“It is clear that reform and Ayman Nur are no longer US priorities,” said Ismail.

“The party will persist in its work because its legality does not come from the system or the government but from the street,” she added.

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