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Case Information: Saad Eddin Ibrahim
Saad Ibrahim
DATE OF ARREST:June 30, 2000

Summary and Current Status

Sociology professor Saad Eddin Ibrahim was acquitted on March 18, 2003, by Egypt's high court of justice after having been brought to trial three times on the same charges. (The charges against him included accepting foreign funds without authorization, disseminating false information harmful to Egypt's interest, and embezzlement. These charges were widely criticized by the international community as being unjust and politically motivated.)

Professor Ibrahim had been convicted in May 2001 and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment by Egypt's State Security Court. The sentence was overturned on appeal by the Court of Cassation, and his case was sent back to the State Security Court for retrial. In July 2002, the State Security Court again convicted Professor Ibrahim and sentenced him to seven years' imprisonment. In December 2002, the Court of Cassation overturned his sentence for the second time, as well as lesser sentences being served by three of his colleagues. He and three co-defendants were released from prison pending a retrial. The retrial took place on February 4, 2003, before the Court of Cassation. As stated above, the Court of Cassation made its decision on March 18, 2003, to acquit Professor Ibrahim and his co-defendants.

The presidents of the National Academies, in a letter to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, wrote on August 1, 2002, that they were "deeply distressed" that Professor Ibrahim's second trial resulted in a conviction. "Professor Ibrahim is known to us and many of our members as a man of integrity and scholarly distinction. He has shown commitment to justice, human rights, democratic values and his native Egypt."

CHR member Morton Panish (NAS/NAE) and former NRC senior staff officer Jay Davenport attended the February 2001 hearings in Cairo as observers representing the CHR.


Saad Eddin Ibrahim is a respected Egyptian sociologist, professor in the Department of Sociology at the American University in Cairo, and director and chairman of the board of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies (ICDS). He holds dual U.S.-Egyptian citizenship. Professor Ibrahim has a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Washington and has taught at a number of universities in the United States. He has written and published extensively, including some 30 books in English and Arabic.

Professor Ibrahim is a former adviser to the Egyptian government. He has also served as a board member and head of Arab Affairs at the state-affiliated Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. Professor Ibrahim is well-known for his work both as a scholar and a champion of democracy and human rights. In addition to the various positions he holds in organizations such as the Club of Rome and the World Bank's Advisory Council for Environmentally Sustainable Development, he has been a leading proponent of democratic reforms in Egypt, particularly with regard to religious minority rights. As secretary general of the Egyptian Independent Commission for Electoral Review, Professor Ibrahim has monitored, documented, and publicized the election process in Egypt, including allegations of electoral fraud.

The Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies (ICDS) is an independent research organization whose main objective is the advancement of applied social sciences in Arab countries and the Third World, with primary emphasis on Egypt. Its board of directors and research staff include prominent Egyptian scholars and former cabinet ministers and diplomats. The ICDS has conducted many well-regarded studies and conferences on democratic reform and the strengthening of civil society in Egypt. The government closed the center for three years following Professor Ibrahim's arrest in June 2000.

Professor Ibrahim was arrested at his home late at night on June 30, 2000. His computer, files, and family safe reportedly were confiscated. We understand that police also raided the ICDS offices, confiscated materials, and arrested numerous ICDS staff associates. Professor Ibrahim was placed in preventive detention in Cairo's al-Turah Prison. At the time of his arrest, Professor Ibrahim was given a 15-day detention order pending the outcome of an investigation of his activities. The detention order was renewed twice, up to the maximum time limit allowed by Egyptian law. (Under the 1981 Egyptian emergency law, a detainee cannot be held for longer than 45 days without charge.) Following intense international pressure, Professor Ibrahim and his colleagues were released on bail—ranging from 10,000 to 25,000 Egyptian pounds (approximately U.S. $2,500 to U.S. $6,250)—on August 10, 2000.

Initially, Professor Ibrahim was accused of receiving foreign funding without permission of the authorities, falsifying election documents, and disseminating false information harmful to Egypt, among a number of other accusations. It is believed that some of the accusations stemmed from a training videotape that the ICDS was preparing, funded in part by the European Union, in an effort to educate Egyptians about their civil rights and what they need to do to exercise those rights. The ICDS reportedly planned to monitor the elections and encourage active citizen participation.

On August 6, 2000, the Egyptian chief state prosecutor added espionage to the list of accusations brought against Professor Ibrahim, stating that he had disclosed Egyptian security secrets at a 1994 conference in Washington, D.C. The conference was organized by and held at the National Defense College. At the conference, Professor Ibrahim spoke about his research on Islamist movements in Egypt. Eleven officials from the Egyptian Embassy in Washington reportedly attended the conference, including the ambassador and two army generals. (At the opening session of Professor Ibrahim's trial, the prosecution said that the charge of espionage would be referred to another "competent court." To our knowledge, no action was taken to prosecute the espionage charge.)

On September 24, 2000, the Egyptian government formally charged Professor Ibrahim and 27 others, most of whom were members of the ICDS staff, with dissemination of false information harmful to Egypt, illegal receipt of foreign funding (without prior permission from the Egyptian authorities), misuse of foreign funding for personal gain, conspiracy to bribe government officials to create favorable public opinion about the work of the ICDS, and falsification of election documents (in its studies of and education efforts about Egyptian electoral processes and procedures).

During the investigation of Professor Ibrahim's case, a number of Egyptian newspapers—apparently under government influence—mounted a smear campaign against him that was filled with speculative accusations and sensational and incorrect accounts of his behavior. It is widely believed that such extreme rhetoric was used in an effort to create distrust of Professor Ibrahim and the ICDS among the general public.

Professor Ibrahim's trial, before the State Security Court, began on November 18, 2000. Additional hearings took place in January, February, April, and May 2001.

On May 21, 2001, the court convicted Professor Ibrahim of accepting unauthorized foreign funding, disseminating false information abroad, and embezzling funds received from the European Union. He was sentenced to seven years in prison. The court also convicted the 27 co-defendants. They received sentences ranging from one to five years in prison. Twenty one of the 27 had their sentences suspended. The two women, Nadia Abdel Nour (chief accountant at the ICDS) and Magda El Beh (a part-time field worker), were sentenced to two and five years respectively. They were held—until their release pending a retrial on February 8, 2002—in the Qanater Prison for Women where conditions were hot, overcrowded, and unsanitary.

The harsh verdicts were handed down before lawyers for the defense had finished submitting their briefs and only an hour and a half after their summations had been completed. The speed at which the judgment was made came as a shock to those following the case. Given that thousands of pages of evidence had been submitted to the court for consideration in its deliberations, it had been expected that a final judgment would not be reached until sometime in June 2001, at the earliest.

Respected human rights groups in Egypt and abroad immediately said that the verdicts were politically motivated and noted that the trial failed to meet international fair trial standards. Additionally, the court's written legal ruling, which was handed down on June 19, 2001, reportedly failed to address a majority of the defense arguments, to link the judges' decisions to points of law, and to show where adequate evidence for conviction was found.

On May 31, 2001, the presidents of the NAS, NAE, and IOM released publicly a letter they had written to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak expressing concern about the conviction and sentencing of Professor Ibrahim.

Lawyers for Professor Ibrahim and his co-defendants submitted an appeal to the Court of Cassation, Egypt's Supreme Court, on July 19, 2001, requesting that the guilty verdicts be overturned on procedural grounds and that a new trial be granted. The defense lawyers subsequently submitted a request that the defendants be temporarily released from prison pending the outcome of the appeal hearing. The Court of Cassation had scheduled the appeal for temporary release to be heard on October 24, 2001. However, on October 15, the court cancelled the hearing without explanation and never rescheduled it.

Reportedly because of a backlog of cases at the Court of Cassation, the defendants' appeal requesting that their guilty verdict be overturned was delayed until December 19, 2001. At the opening of the hearing on December 19, Professor Ibrahim's lawyer asked the judges to rule first on the request that Professor Ibrahim's sentence be suspended because of his deteriorating health. (Full medical documentation was presented.) The judges reportedly ignored the request entirely. They did hear the defense lawyers' arguments requesting that the guilty verdict be overturned and a new trial be granted. The judges postponed the expected verdict and adjourned the hearing until January 16, 2002. The defendants were not present at the December 19, 2001, hearing; but it reportedly was attended by their families and friends, as well as representatives of the Belgian, British, Canadian, Dutch, Italian, Norwegian, Swiss, and U.S. governments.

At the January 16, 2001, hearing, after defense lawyers made brief statements, the judges retired for more than five hours of closed deliberations. In the afternoon they returned to the court and announced a further postponement of their decision until February 6, 2002. When the court reconvened on February 6, 2002, it announced that it had overturned the convictions and ordered the release of the defendants pending a new trial by the State Security Court. (The State Security Court, along with the military courts, constitutes a parallel court system created by the State under special emergency powers. This special security court has followed procedures that consistently violate internationally recognized fair trial standards.)

According to the Ibrahim family, the Court of Cassation's ruling in the case found: (1) gross mistakes of reasoning in evaluating the evidence regarding the embezzlement charge; (2) that the security court judges failed to address defense arguments that co-defendants had been pressured to extract their confessions; (3) that the security court evaluation of evidence linking Professor Ibrahim with some of the co-defendants was unconvincing and therefore weak grounds for any criminal collusion; and (4) that the security court failed to examine the contracts between the European Union and Ibn Khaldun Center/HODA before reaching a conviction for unauthorized funding.

The second trial began on April 27, 2002, again before the State Security Court. The defense formally requested, but never received, access to key files, seized materials, document translations, copies of court transcripts, and minutes of trial sessions.

An area of dispute during the second trial concerned the applicability of Military Order #4 of 1992 that the prosecution claimed governed the working relationship between the Ibn Khaldun Center (ICDS) and the European Union (EU). Specifically, foreign funding recipient organizations are required, under the decree, to secure permission from the Ministry of Social Affairs (charged with overseeing the work of Egypt's private associations and NGOs) before receiving such funds. The defense argued that the ICDS is neither a private association nor an NGO; it is a civil company, holding a commercial registration and a tax card, that is governed by Egypt's business statute, the Law of Companies. The defense stressed that the ICDS, as a legal business entity, had no obligation to report to the Ministry of Social Affairs, and, because the ICDS and the EU had a strictly business relationship involving payment for services, the organizations were not subject to military law.

In response to a separate charge that the ICDS had embezzled EU funds, the defense submitted EU statements and audits that claimed all funds had been properly accounted for.

Concerning the charge of defaming the country, prosecutors referred to Article 80(d) of the penal code which stipulates a maximum five-year sentence for "every Egyptian who purposely spreads false rumors or reports on domestic conditions abroad." The constitutionality of this law was challenged because of its vagueness and its restriction on freedom of expression. The defense noted that this law, although in effect for many years, had never actually been applied until now. Testifying on behalf of the defense was Awad Al Morr, a former chief justice of Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court. According to the Cairo Times, Awad al Moor said that the article of the Egyptian penal code that criminalizes free speech granted by the constitution was unjust and a "great humiliation to Egypt" and that it, rather than Professor Ibrahim, had defamed the state.

On July 29, 2002, the court again convicted Professor Ibrahim and sentenced him to seven years' imprisonment. Of the other five defendants whose verdicts were also announced that day, two received sentences of three years' imprisonment (reduced from five years at the earlier trial); one received a sentence of two years' imprisonment; and two received suspended sentences (reduced from two years' imprisonment in the previous trial). For the twenty-one other defendants who had received one-year suspended sentences in the previous trial, their original sentences remained unchanged.

The two women convicted, Nadia Abdel Nour (two years) and Magda El Beh (three years), were returned to Qanater Prison for Women, known for its lack of sanitary conditions and inadequate medical facilities. On October 14, for the first time, European diplomats visited the two women in an overcrowded dormitory type cell that they shared with 205 other prisoners.

The guilty verdicts, handed down without the defendants having had the opportunity to address the court, came suddenly and surprised many observers, who had heard the presiding judge announce the day before that the volume of material in the case would require weeks to review.

In its elaboration on the ruling released on August 25, 2002, the State Security Court based its decision on the original charges of accepting foreign funds without authorization and disseminating false information abroad, although observers noted that additional charges of mishandling funds—charges not present in the original prosecution—had also been added. On September 17, 2002, the defense submitted a 113-page appeal to the Court of Cassation. The appeal was based, in part, on grounds that the judges had not given consideration to the defense's claim that the 1992 military decree is unconstitutional.

On December 3, 2002, almost three months later, the Court of Cassation overturned Professor Ibrahim's conviction, and that of three of his codefendants, and ordered their release pending a retrial. The new trial, again based on the same charges as the two previous ones, took place on February 4, 2003, before the Court of Cassation, which, this time, sat as the trial court. At least five of the appeals court judges who overturned Professor Ibrahim's conviction in December 2002 were reportedly on the nine-judge retrial panel. It is our understanding that, unlike in Professor Ibrahim's previous trials, the defense team was given ample opportunity to present its case. The team of five lawyers presented its arguments for over five hours. In contrast, the prosecution reportedly read out the charges against the defendants and offered only a short ten-minute rebuttal of the defense's arguments, reportedly leaving many of the defense's points uncontested. U.S. and European diplomats and representatives of non-governmental organizations attended the trial. As decribed in the "Summary and Current Status" section above, the Court of Cassation formally acquitted Professor Ibrahim and his codefendants on March 18, 2003.

Professor Ibrahim suffers from a degenerative neurological condition, which impairs his balance, ability to walk, and use of his hands. Given that his condition has substantially worsened since his original arrest in June 2000, the CHR is relieved that finally he is able to seek the specialized medical treatment abroad that his condition requires.

Professor Ibrahim reportedly had several small strokes while in prison which caused irreversible damage to his spinal chord and to motor regions of his brain. On September 25, 2002, Professor Ibrahim, while in the prison exercise yard, fell and broke his ankle. The fall raised new concerns about his health and the possibility that he may have suffered further strokes. When members of his family visited him in prison on October 1, 2002, he was wearing a plaster cast and was "confined to a wheelchair in his cell."

During periods between incarceration, Professor Ibrahim had medical tests and evaluations but, according to his family, other than continued physiotherapy "there [was] little more that c[ould] be done for him in Egypt." On February 19, 2002, Professor Ibrahim's lawyers filed a petition requesting the Egyptian Attorney General to allow Professor Ibrahim to get treatment outside Egypt at a medical research center specializing in small strokes and neurovascular disease. No response was received. (At the time of Professor Ibrahim's arrest in June 2000, the Egyptian government confiscated his U.S. and Egyptian passports and did not return them until his acquittal in March 2003.)

During his incarceration Professor Ibrahim's family was permitted to visit him for half an hour every two weeks. He was permitted to write only one letter a week, and sent two to the CHR.

Professor Ibrahim received widespread recognition and support throughout his ordeal from human rights and scientific organizations, as well as many foreign governments. In late 2001, the Belgian ambassador to Egypt visited Professor Ibrahim, in his official capacity as a representative of the Presidency of the European Union, to verify Professor Ibrahim's conditions of confinement and to inquire about his ill-health. Ambassadors of Australia, Canada, and the United States visited him, as did the minister counselor of Norway and the head of Norway's largest human rights organization. In December 2001, Human Rights Watch published a detailed report "The State of Egypt vs. Free Expression: The Ibn Khaldun Trial." Diplomats from the Australian, British, Canadian, Danish, Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish, and U.S. embassies reportedly attended the February 6, 2002, Appeals Court session. The second trial was also closely followed by foreign governments and representatives from the embassies of the U.S., Belgium, Germany, and Denmark attended various sessions. At one point in the trial, they were invited by the presiding judge to a separate chamber to witness the prosecutors reviewing the evidence—an effort, it appears, to address questions about the trial's fairness.

The importance of the case to the U.S. government was demonstrated on August 15, 2002, when the White House announced that it would not consider granting Egypt any additional foreign aid beyond the $2 billion per year which is already part of the Camp David commitments. That same day, a U.S. State Department spokesperson expressed "deep disappointment over the verdict in the case of Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim and the serious questions that that case raises about the progress towards greater political freedom in Egypt."

During his ordeal, Professor Ibrahim received several awards. On November 19, 2001, the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) named Professor Ibrahim as the first recipient of their association's Academic Freedom Award for his "dedication to the promotion of democratic rights and civil liberties through his teaching and scholarship, and his commitment as a public intellectual to the principles of free expression and the free exchange of information and ideas." On December 5, 2001, Professor Ibrahim was named the 2002 recipient of the Ulrich-Zwiener Foundation's award for International Understanding and Human Rights because of his past "achievements that have led to increased recognition of human rights through mutual understanding." In early January 2002, Freedom House announced that Professor Ibrahim had been selected as the first recipient of the Bette Bao Lord Prize. In a letter to Professor Ibrahim, the chairman of Freedom House, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, wrote that Professor Ibrahim was selected because his essays and scholarly writings "illuminated the basic impediments to political freedom and a more humane order." On February 15, 2002, the Fredrich Schiller University in Germany awarded Professor Ibrahim the 2002 Zweiner Prize for International Understanding. Professor Ibrahim was one of two rights advocates honored at the 2002 Lawyers Committee for Human Rights annual award dinner in New York. His name was submitted in nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2002. Professor Ibrahim has also been nominated for the 2002 PEN/Novib Award for writers who are imprisoned for political or ideological reasons, granted by the Netherlands branch of International PEN, the worldwide writers organization, and Novib, a Dutch international development NGO. In February 2003 Professor Ibrahim was honored at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in Denver.

The European Community Office of Humanitarian Affairs and the Presidency of the European Union expressed their support of Professor Ibrahim in statements issued on July 29 and 30, 2002, respectively. As reported by the Inter Press Service, former U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, told an interviewer (in a comment later censored on Egyptian television) that she was "particularly concerned about the verdict of the Egyptian court on Saad Ibrahim." Major editorials in newspapers and journals across a broad political spectrum decried Professor Ibrahim's sentencing. On September 5, 2002, the European Parliament passed a resolution of support and concern for Professor Ibrahim, and forty-eight of its members joined in nominating Professor Ibrahim to receive the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for 2002.

On September 28, 2002, a petition to Egypt's president, signed by 100 Arab intellectuals, expressed "severe shock" at Professor Ibrahim's prison sentence and called for his immediate release out of concern for "Egypt's reputation in the world," its "keenness to maintain civil society," to preempt a setback in Egypt's expanded "margins of liberty," and concern for Professor Ibrahim's health and well-being that they said were "severely at risk because of the material and psychological conditions in prison."

In April 2003 Professor Ibrahim was the featured guest speaker at a Committee on Human Rights briefing at the 2003 annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences.

Related Links

Saad Eddin Ibrahim Is Acquitted (3/18/03)

Saad Eddin Ibrahim's Retrial Lasts One Day (2/13/03)

Saad Eddin Ibrahim Released Pending New Trial (12/4/02)

Public letter sent by presidents of NAS, NAE, and IOM to Egyptian President Mubarak regarding Saad Eddin Ibrahim (8/1/02)

Saad Eddin Ibrahim - Retrial Results in Second Conviction (7/31/02)

Saad Eddin Ibrahim - New Trial Begins; Serious Medical Concerns (4/29/02)

Statement by Family of Saad Eddin Ibrahim (2/7/02)

Saad Eddin Ibrahim Released and Granted New Trial (2/7/02)

Please Write to Dr. Ibrahim (2/5/02)

Appeal Verdict Postponed Twice in Ibrahim Case (1/22/02)

Appeal Verdict Postponed in Ibrahim Case (1/11/02)

Ibrahim Appeal to be Heard December 19 (11/30/01)

Letter from Egyptian Sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim (11/21/01)

Egyptian Sociologist Ibrahim Convicted and Sentenced to Seven Years in Prison (10/22/01)

Letter of Gratitude from Saad Eddin Ibrahim (8/20/01)

Public letter sent by presidents of NAS, NAE, and IOM to Egyptian President Mubarak regarding Saad Eddin Ibrahim (5/31/01)

Report on the Case of Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Imprisoned Sociologist, Cairo, Egypt (5/31/01)