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Annan backs re-opened Egyptian rights and democracy ‘think-tank’

30 June 2003

Three years to the day after the initial arrest of sociology professor and human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the Ibn Khaldun Centre for Development Studies in Cairo, which he founded and runs, was re-opened on 30 June. The human rights and democracy think-tank had remained closed and guarded by state security throughout a judicial process which had seen Ibrahim and his colleagues jailed by a State Security Court for terms of up to seven years. The Ibn Khaldun defendants were eventually freed by Egypt’s highest appeals court, which found them innocent of charges aimed at halting their pro-democracy work and silencing criticism of the authorities.

In an important gesture of support for Ibrahim and the Ibn Khaldun Centre, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan added his voice to those around the world who welcomed the re-opening. In a statement Mr. Annan highly praised the work of the Ibn Khaldun Centre in promoting tolerance, understanding and respect for diversity, describing the re-opening as ‘…a significant step towards strengthening democracy and development in Egypt and the Arab world’.

Professor Ibrahim has decided to pursue his work in Egypt and the Arab world despite offers of employment in the United States. Ibrahim recently returned to Egypt having received medical treatment for a neurological condition in the US which had been denied to him by the Egyptian authorities due to his imprisonment and a travel ban during retrial proceedings.

Speaking for Minority Rights Group International, who have a long relationship with the Ibn Khaldun Centre and Professor Ibrahim, Director Mark Lattimer welcomed the re-opening, stating ‘This is an important landmark for the democracy and human rights movement in Egypt. The confidence of civil society in Egypt has been shaken and its ability to function independently and unhindered was undermined by the proceedings taken against Professor Ibrahim and his co-defendants. The Ibn Khaldun Centre has a crucial role to play, and sets an impressive example in the process of rebuilding that confidence, promoting democracy and challenging injustice.’

Concern remains over the ability of the Ibn Khaldun Centre to function without state interference and intimidation. State security guards were temporarily re-installed following attempts by Ibrahim and his staff to re-open and repair the looted and damaged offices. However, the eyes of human rights and democracy organizations worldwide who have supported the Ibn Khaldun Centre, and now surely those of the United Nations too, are firmly fixed on the Egyptian authorities and whether they will allow this centre and others like it to function freely.