Egyptian Dissident Suddenly Released From Prison

Against a backdrop of increased repression of bloggers and political speech in Egypt, Ayman Nour, a political rival to Hosni Mubarak, has been released from prison in what most see as a purely political move. Nour was arrested years ago on weak charges after running against Mubarak in the 2005 election. Marc Lynch writes that this his detention was for many democracy activists “the single most potent symbol of Mubarak’s refusal of American pressures on democracy issues.”

Observers tell us not to expect a ‘Cairo Spring’ any time soon, though. The move was likely an attempt to buy good will with the new US administration and Democratic Congress, which was increasingly critical of Nour’s detention. As we wrote here earlier, Nour’s detention was raised as key issue for democracy scholar and new NSC staffer Michael McFaul. Blake Hounshell at Passport reminds us as well that Secretary of State Clinton will arrive soon in Cairo for an official visit, and that Nour’s release could also ease pressures to limit Egypt’s annual military aid package, which will come up again for debate this spring. And as Marc Lynch concludes:

[Nour’s] detention was never the only or even the most significant aspect of the regime’s crackdown on political opposition, which included the arrest of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members, heavy pressures on the press and the judiciary, and much more…His release does not come close to reversing the authoritarian trends in Egypt. I hope that this does not become an excuse to begin ignoring democratic reform, human rights and public freedoms issues in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world.

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