- Purchase/rental options available:
Journal of Democracy 11.4 (2000) 58-63
[Access article in PDF]
A Reply to my Accusers
Saad Eddin Ibrahim
On 30 June 2000, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the chairman of the board of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies in Cairo, and a number of his colleagues were arrested by the Egyptian authorities. The Center itself was shut down on July 1. Egypt's State Emergency Law permits the detention of suspects for renewable periods of 15 days (up to a total of 60 days) while the allegations against them are being investigated. The allegations against Ibrahim claimed that he had received foreign funding without the permission of the authorities and that he had used these funds to disseminate false information damaging to Egypt's national interest. These allegations seemed to refer in particular to the production of a documentary film on Egypt's election process, funded by a grant from the European Union. It was also alleged that the Ibn Khaldun Center had committed financial and other improprieties, and it was even hinted that Ibrahim had been involved in espionage. Though he was released on bail on August 10 and no formal charges have yet been filed, as of late August, two of his colleagues remained in jail and the case had not been dropped.
One of the Arab world's most prominent spokesmen on behalf of democracy and human rights, Saad Eddin Ibrahim is also professor of sociology at the American University in Cairo. (His article "Reform and Frustration in Egypt" appeared in the October 1996 issue of the Journal of Democracy, and he is a member of the Research Council of the International Forum for Democratic Studies.) He has also served as president of Cairo's Union of Social Professions and as secretary-general of the Independent Commission for Electoral Review, which monitored Egypt's 1995 parliamentary elections. The Ibn Khaldun Center, a policy-research institute that also publishes a monthly magazine in both Arabic and English entitled Civil Society, is itself one of the leading organizations of Egypt's beleaguered civil society. It has sponsored research and conferences on a wide variety of subjects, including democratization, the role of women, and the rights of minorities (especially Egypt's Coptic Christians). A "Field Report" describing the [End Page 58] work of the Ibn Khaldun Center appeared in the July 1995 issue of the Journal of Democracy.
It is widely believed that the government's actions against the Ibn Khaldun Center were intended as a broader warning to Egyptian civil-society groups to curb their efforts to promote human rights and democracy. As a group of seven international human-rights organizations noted in an appeal to the European Union to speak out on the case, "the Egyptian authorities have increased efforts to muzzle civil society and have arrested and tried those who expressed strong criticism of government policies." On July 27, Ibrahim presented an eloquent statement to State Security Prosecutors in which he emphasized that his arrest was really about "matters still unspoken"--and then went on to speak about them. A minimally abridged version of his statement follows, translated from the Arabic by the Ibrahim family and slightly revised by Naiem A. Sherbiny.
This is not a case about Egyptians receiving foreign funding from abroad, for our government is the largest recipient of grants, gifts, and aid from abroad. Our private sector is the second largest recipient of such grants, aid, and loans. At the tail end of this list are the civil-society organizations, one of which is the Ibn Khaldun Center. These organi-zations, totaling approximately 15,000, receive no more than about 10 percent of private-sector receipts and less than about 1 percent of what the Egyptian government receives from foreign sources: $30 million, $300 million, and $3 billion, respectively. The total that the Ibn Khaldun Center received annually from those sources did not exceed $300,000. It is therefore impossible that all this commotion could be over those $300,000, which are spent on training and employing 30 young people; moreover, 10 percent of...