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Tumultuous start to Nour trial
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 30 - 06 - 2005

Massive security, counter accusations of fraud, and the presidential campaign all figured prominently in the first session of Al-Ghad Party leader 's forgery trial. Mona El-Nahhas was there
Al-Ghad Party leader and presidential candidate 's forgery trial got off to a rollicking start at Cairo's Criminal Court on Tuesday. The trial began three hours later than scheduled, after police delayed the 41-year-old MP and his lawyers' entrance into the courtroom. Hundreds of the party leader's supporters were on hand for the event. During the hearing a Nour supporter, Khalil El-Antabli, died while being taken to hospital in an ambulance. El-Antabli had been apparently suffering from shortness of breath in the courthouse.
At noon, Nour entered the defendant's cage amid cheers from his supporters who shouted, "Here is the president".
Nour pleaded not guilty after the prosecution's bill of indictment was read out. Arrested in January, Nour is accused of forging 1435 of the signatures he used to obtain his party's official license. (The Political Parties Committee approved Al-Ghad last October.)
Nour and his supporters say the forgery charges are state-fabricated, their primary aim being to ruin his political future. Officials insist that the case against Nour is criminal, with no political motivations whatsoever.
Five other men involved in the same case were in the cage with Nour. As the hearing began, the five other defendants, all of whom used to work as Al-Ghad Party administrative employees, confessed to committing the alleged forgeries, on orders from Nour. In a statement issued by their lawyers, the five defendants claimed to have been victims of Nour's "lies and deception".
Nour denied the charges, claiming the men were actually state security agents who had infiltrated the party. As the accusations between the two camps' lawyers rose in pitch, chief judge Abdel-Salam Goma'a declared a recess and walked out. Half an hour later, Goma'a came back and set 30 June as the date for the next hearing.
Before the recess, the lawyer for the five defendants, Abdel-Hai Khallaf, spent more time attacking Nour than defending his clients. He questioned the origins of Nour's personal fortune, and doubted the authenticity of Nour's Russian PhD. As the defense argued that Khallaf's accusations had nothing to do with the case, Nour told the judge he was "more than ready to produce evidence regarding the sources of my income, but I will demand that [President] Mubarak, his sons and his family do the same thing."
Nour's defense team consists of nearly 100 lawyers, the majority of whom are volunteers. During the trial, Nour's lawyers asked the court to summon top state officials -- including Parliamentary Speaker Fathi Sorour and Political Parties Committee Chairman Safwat El-Sherif -- for testimony. The defense also asked for the travel ban on Nour to be lifted.
They expected the court proceedings to drag on for several months. "Their aim is to exhaust me and prevent me from running in the coming presidential elections. They think that putting me inside this cage will negatively effect my election campaign," Nour told reporters following the session. He said the trial would, instead, boost his popularity. "I tell them the cost of my entering this cage will be success in the presidential elections."
If convicted, Nour would lose the right to run in elections and could face a prison term of up to 15 years. Al-Ghad Party members expressed their concerns regarding the court's judges, and especially head judge Goma'a, who sentenced sociologist and democracy advocate Saadeddin Ibrahim to seven years jail time in 2001. Ibrahim later won an appeal and was acquitted.
Nour was released on LE10,000 bail last March after his arrest caused tensions between Egypt and the United States. The US administration severely criticised Nour's detention and pressured the Egyptian government to release him. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is rumoured to have cancelled her trip to Egypt last March to protest against Nour's imprisonment. When she finally made it to Cairo last week, Rice met with Nour and other advocates of political reform. During their meeting, Rice did not specifically discuss his case, Nour said. The administration's stance on Nour fuelled speculations of possible ties between Nour and the US, rumours the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) has used against Nour in an attempt to tarnish his image.
Outside the courtroom a massive security presence contributed to the tense atmosphere. Hundreds of Al-Ghad Party members and Nour supporters were demonstrating outside the Bab Al-Khalq building, waving flags and banners emblazoned with orange, the party's colour. Some of the slogans written on the signs included "Justice for " and "No to fabrication of charges".
Police closed the road outside the courthouse and diverted traffic. Hundreds of anti-riot police had cordoned the area from the early morning hours, blocking access to the building. Dozens of trucks stood nearby. Inside the courthouse, security officials prevented much of the media from entering the room where the trial was taking place. "A fair trial cannot take place under these conditions," Nour's wife, TV announcer Gamila Ismail, told reporters.
Prominent lawyer Amir Salem, who is heading Nour's defense team, angrily accused security of beating lawyers and supporters. "They blocked our path and we could not even contact the judicial authorities to complain about the treatment."
Nour called it "the worst beginning of a trial". He told reporters following the session that he intended to question Interior Minister Habib El-Adli at the People's Assembly about the alleged security violations. "The security presence inside and outside the chambers is illegitimate and unconstitutional," Nour said. "What is happening now proves that we are not in a court, but in a circus run by the state security apparatus."

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