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Viewing cable 09CAIRO300, AYMAN NOUR'S RELEASE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09CAIRO300 2009-02-19 09:09 2011-02-16 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Cairo
VZCZCXRO6509
OO RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHEG #0300/01 0500955
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 190955Z FEB 09
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1673
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 000300 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ELA, NSC FOR PASCUAL 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/19/2029 
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM KDEM EG
SUBJECT: AYMAN NOUR'S RELEASE 
 
REF: A. CAIRO 64 
     ΒΆB. 2008 CAIRO 2420 C. 2008 CAIRO 1565 D. 2008 CAIRO 1010 E. 2007 CAIRO 2350 Classified By: Minister-Counselor for Economic and Political Affairs William R. Stewart, for reason 1.4 (d).
1.(C) Summary: Hours after the surprise February 18 release from prison of former presidential candidate and Ghad party leader Ayman Nour, poloff (at the invitation of Nour's wife) joined journalists and opposition politicos gathering at Nour's Cairo home. Surrounded by twenty TV camera crews and a few ululating supporters, a pale, thinner, but healthy looking Nour, who was released for "medical reasons," spoke of his happiness and hope for the future. Various senior Ghad party members told us they felt Nour's release after the change of U.S. administrations was timed to send a message to the USG that the "pressure tactics" of the Bush administration did not work, and also as a goodwill gesture to President Obama, "to get things off on the right foot." Egyptian law bars Nour, a convicted felon, from running for public office for at least six years (he was previously an MP in Egypt's People's Assembly). He plans to appeal the ban on his political activities to Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court, and appears for the moment not to be concerned that taking a high profile outside of prison could result in his being jailed again. End summary. ----------- THE RELEASE -----------

2.(SBU) The atmosphere at the Nour home was one of dumbfounded celebration, with Nour's family and Ghad party colleagues still not quite believing their eyes. All told us the release was totally unexpected. Nour's former lawyer, Amir Salem, commented that in the late afternoon, Nour was told by his prison guards to "just leave." Shoving a few belongings into a bag, he was driven to the Ministry of Interior, then transferred to another car and brought home. He was not told why he had been released, although the Public Prosecutor's office later issued a statement that Nour and eight other prisoners had been freed for "health reasons." Nour suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiac problems, but his numerous previous appeals for medical parole had all been rejected (reftels). After conducting a brief press conference at his home, Nour departed for a TV studio, to appear on the popular Egyptian evening news show "Ten at Night." He reportedly will hold another press conference on February 19 at the Ghad party's downtown Cairo headquarters, which were heavily damaged in a November 2008 fire (ref B). -------- WHY NOW? --------

3.(C) We spoke with several Ghad party leaders about the release, including Ghad president Ehab El Khouly, vice-president Wael Nawara, former president Nagi al Ghatrifi, and former vice-president Hisham Kassem. Most felt that Nour's being freed was timed to send a message to the USG: "This is Mubarak thumbing his nose at former President Bush, saying that all of his pressure and talk about democracy did nothing to elicit Nour's release while Bush was still in office." In addition, Nawara and Kassem viewed the move as carefully timed to serve as an "instructive lesson" for the Obama administration: "Before the new administration's Middle East team is fully assembled, and serious thinking is done about Egypt policy, Mubarak wanted to make the point that pressuring him does not work, that he will do things on his own schedule and not in reaction to pressure." Kassem noted that the GOE leadership also wanted to send a goodwill message to the new U.S. administration, getting the vexed "Nour issue" off of the agenda, and starting things off on a more positive footing. He highlighted recent press speculation, including in government-backed newspapers, that Mubarak plans to travel to Washington this spring, and mused that the Egyptian president likely wanted to forestall the inevitable "problems" with both the USG and in the U.S. press stemming from Nour's continued incarceration.

4.(C) While Ghad president El Khouly felt that "much of the credit" for the release is due to USG pressure on Egypt, vice-president Nawara opined that the timing was at least partially shaped by internal Egyptian considerations. "Nour was due to be released in July, once he hit the three-quarter CAIRO 00000300 002 OF 002 mark of his five-year sentence. The government was already ginning up all sorts of reports about his bad behavior in prison (ref A), to provide an excuse to not release him this summer. But they knew there would be an ugly public fight about it. How much better for them to just release him now, and get all the credit and goodwill for this magnanimous gesture, rather than being pushed into releasing him in July!" All of the Ghad members we spoke with noted that the release was bittersweet. While they are delighted that Nour is free, his release reminded them again of "the absurdity" of his being imprisoned in the first place. ------------ WHAT'S NEXT? ------------

5.(C) Salem, Nour's longtime former lawyer, stressed to us that Nour was released on medical parole, not granted a presidential pardon. "This means that the government legally has the authority to pull him back into prison at any time on the justification that his health has 'improved' and he can now serve out his sentence." Salem felt this would be a "sword over Nour's head," although, in the few hours since his release thus far, Nour seems uninhibited about restricting his activities. He told journalists that he intends to continue working in politics: "I'll do all that I used to do before going to prison in December 2005. I emerged stronger from prison, I have the same steadfastness, faith and beliefs and will carry on with my path of political work and the struggle for democracy. After spending more than three years in prison, I have nothing to fear."

6.(C) According to Egypt's penal code, as a convicted felon, Nour cannot run for public office for at least six years (and possibly more), and is barred from practicing law (he is a lawyer). During his appearance on "Ten at Night," Nour said he plans to appeal the ban to Egypt's Consitutional Court, because it is "unconstitutional" It seems that regardless of the legal bar, Nou is aiming to somehow remain a force in Egyptianopposition politics, and has no plans to tread qietly with the Mubarak regime. SCOBEY