Egypt jails editor over Mubarak health rumor

Ibrahim Issa, the outspoken editor in chief of Egypt's independent daily Al-Dustor, has been sentenced to two months in prison for publishing articles that suggested Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was in bad health. MENASSAT spoke exclusively with Issa's wife, Amira Abdel-Fattah, following the ruling.
Ibrahim Issa
Ibrahim Issa is no stranger to the Egyptian court system but it will be the first time he actually spends time behind bars. R.R.

BEIRUT, September 29, 2008 (MENASSAT)- On Sunday, the Cairo-based appeals court of Abbaseyya rejected Al-Dustor editor in chief Ibrahim Issa's appeal and sentenced him to a two months in prison.

Neither Issa nor his wife, Amira Abdel-Fattah, were present during the court session, which reportedly lasted less than a minute.

"We were not there because we wanted time to prepare. If we had come, they might have taken Ibrahim directly to prison," Abdel-Fattah told MENASSAT on the phone from Cairo.

At the time of writing, Issa had still not been taken into custody, and Abdel-Fattah said that an oral agreement between the Egyptian journalists syndicate and the Prosecutor General would enable her to spend the upcoming Eid holiday with her husband.

"There is an agreement that they will wait to arrest Ibrahim until after the Eid holiday. But since it is an oral agreement, they could come and take him at any point if they wanted," she said.

'Gods don't get sick'

A veteran journalist and one of Egypt's most outspoken regime critics, Ibrahim Issa was convicted in March of this year of "publishing false information of a nature to disturb public order or security."

In his articles, he had raised the question whether president Mubarak was in fact human after all "because Gods don't get sick."

The prosecution claimed that Issa's articles, which cast doubt on Mubarak's health, harmed Egypt's economy after foreign investors allegedly pulled out investments worth more than $350 million from the Egyptian stock exchange.

Meanwhile, speculations about Mubarak's state of health surged on the Egyptian streets and in the country's independent press. At one point, rumors even circulated that the President had died.

Issa's first trial in March was supposed to have been held before a state security court where he would have had no right of appeal. But pressure brought by the Egyptian journalists' union helped transfer the case to an ordinary civil court.

He was subsequently sentenced to six months in prison and a fine of LE 200, against which he appealed. 

That appeal was rejected on Sunday. 

Prison pack list

As a writer who has often broken his country's political, social and religious taboos, Issa is no stranger to the Egyptian court system.

Sunday's judgment will, however, mark the first time he actually spends time behind bars.

"We always expected it to happen one day, but still... The sentence especially surprised me because it was given right before the Eid holiday. At least I hope they will put him in a good prison like Tora. The worst would be the Istafnas prison," his wife said.

Egyptian prisons don't have the best reputation according to numerous studies conducted by rights groups.

"Gamila Ismail has provided us with a list of things Ibrahim should bring to prison, which I am currently preparing. Medicines, towels, you know..." said Abdel- Fattah.

As the wife of the imprisoned Egyptian politician Ayman Nour, Gamila Ismail should know the packing list well.

A former member of parliament and chairman of the liberal El Ghad party, Ayman Nour was the first runner-up in the Egyptian presidential elections of 2005. He was jailed by the ruling Mubarak regime that same year on accusations of fraud. Nour, who is suffering from health problems, is currently serving a five-year prison sentence.

Ipod prison entertainment

Apart from the necessary items, there is one thing Abdel Fattah will not forget to send with her husband to prison: his Ipod.

Issa had previously made ironic remarks over the modernization of Egypt's prisons, expressing delight over the fact that he will be able to listen to his Ipod in prison.

"This is progress in the Mubarak era. Yes, they do torture you in your cell but they allow you to listen to your iPod!," he told the Chicago Tribune in October 2007.

In a previous interview with MENASSAT, Abdel-Fattah revealed what her husband might be tuning into in jail.

"Sign al-Alaa (Citadel Prison) by the Egyptian singer Sheikh Imam, she said, would be a "given favorite."

Issa's sentencing has been condemned by right groups, including the Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), which referred to the judgment as "an attempt to knock down freedom of expression in Egypt."