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Egyptian Sociologist Ibrahim Is Acquitted

After almost three years of legal battles and time in jail, a final ruling by Egypt’s highest appeals court acquitted renowned social activist and sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim and two of his co-defendants of “undermining the dignity of the state and tarnishing its reputation.” On March 18, Egypt’s Court of Cassation ordered the 64-year-old American University-Cairo professor freed. There can be no retrial, which brings an end to a legal saga that many scholars and human-rights leaders say exposed the fragility of academic freedom in the Arab world’s most intellectually prominent country.

At a court hearing on February 4, 2003, Ibrahim’s lawyers had refuted the prosecution’s charges that Ibrahim and his colleagues from the advocacy center that he directed, the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, had been involved in fraud, in publishing false information to tarnish Egypt’s reputation, or had received foreign donations without permission. The prosecution offered few arguments to support its case, leaving the defense hopeful that the court would rule in its favor. Nevertheless, the acquittal of all the Ibn Khaldun staff members comes as a great relief.

Contexts Magazine Feature

A special article, titled “A Letter from Cairo,” by Ibrahim, will appear in the spring issue of ASA’s Contexts magazine (www.contextsmagazine.org). In the article, Ibrahim discusses his experience in jail and his feelings on the need for greater democracy within Egypt. This issue is particularly pertinent to academic freedom. There are key lessons in his essay for any scholar doing politically sensitive research.

Ibrahim was recently honored at the human rights reception co-sponsored by ASA at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Denver, CO. Sociologist Harriet Presser, University of Maryland-College Park, formally represented ASA at the event, which attracted some 100 AAAS attendees. Presser was joined on stage by Ibrahim’s son Amir and daughter Randa, who attended the reception to speak on their father’s behalf. Several other family members who live in the United States also attended. Ibrahim himself was unable to leave Egypt to attend the AAAS reception, as he awaited the verdict from his latest appeal. Randa, an attorney, has been representing her father in the Egyptian court system.

For Presser, the AAAS meeting represented a memorable life event, since she had the double pleasure of being inducted as a AAAS Fellow at the Denver meeting and presenting remarks at the Ibrahim reception. “The whole event was very special for me personally,” she said. “I have now met all the members of Ibrahim’s immediate family.” Presser had met Ibrahim’s wife Barbara in Argentina a few years ago when Presser served as a discussant of a paper Barbara presented.

Presser’s remarks, which include a summary of Ibrahim’s recent experience with the Egyptian justice system, appear on the AAAS website at shr.aaas.org/reception/2003_3.htm.