The following editorial ran in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times:
For a quarter of a century Saad Eddin Ibrahim has been a lonely voice in Egypt, promoting democratic ideas and religious freedom while incurring the wrath of officials. Two years ago authorities arrested him and charged him with receiving illegal funds from the European Commission to monitor elections and with defaming Egypt in human rights reports. His real "crime" was criticizing the government.
After a six-month trial that included thousands of pages of evidence, a high court judge took little more than an hour to pronounce Ibrahim guilty and sentence him to seven years at hard labor. Last week a Cairo appeals court overturned the conviction. Diplomats from the United States and several European countries attended the appeals court hearing, signaling clearly that their nations expect Egypt to live up to its rhetoric about moving toward democracy.
Egypt too often equates legitimate dissent with potential violence and clamps down when it should offer more opportunities for peaceful opposition. The lack of legitimate outlets for dissent makes it easier for extremists to recruit followers. Organizations such as al-Qaida, whose followers include a number of Egyptians, fester under repression.
Granting people greater opportunities to take part in civil society undercuts complaints that they are not represented and that the state serves only a corrupt elite. Ibrahim and those who worked with him at his Ibn Khaldoun Center for Social Development Studies pointed out irregularities in Egypt's elections that favored the New Democratic Party of President Hosni Mubarak.
The appeals panel gave no reason for its decision and ordered Ibrahim, who holds Egyptian and U.S. citizenship, freed to await further proceedings. The government should call off its vendetta and drop the charges. The government should respond by recognizing that dissent is not treason and that as a society becomes more open it becomes stronger.
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