Human rights activist calls for address of grievances

Saad Eddin Ibrahim paused for a few moments as he held back the tears which began to form when he spoke about his recent imprisonment in Egypt.

Ibrahim received a standing ovation following a passionate lecture in which he addressed his personal struggles to further human rights and democracy in the Middle East.

Ibrahim, an internationally renowned sociologist and advocate of democracy and human rights, made his first visit back to Salt Lake City since 1964.

Some of Ibrahim’s unique experiences have included a 1981 meeting with Anwar Sadat and writing a letter to Saddam Hussein from prison in which he pleaded with the former Iraqi president to step down and save the Middle East from more havoc.

“When you’re in prison, you have nothing to lose,” Ibrahim joked.

Ibrahim found himself behind bars after he and 27 of his close associates from the Ibn Khaldun Center for Developmental Studies were arrested on June 30, 2000. He spent two years in the prison due to his political beliefs and social activism.

Ibrahim discussed the issues which landed him in prison. “There were stated reasons in the state prosecutor’s case, and then there was what everybody believed to be the real reason,” Ibrahim said.

The prosecutor’s case had four main charges which stuck out among a plethora of others.

First, Ibrahim was accused of tarnishing Egypt’s image abroad by claiming membes of the Christian Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt Copts were discriminated against; second, receiving funds from the European Union without authorization; third, embezzlement of those funds; and fourth, a national security breach.

Ibrahim is a long-time friend of Ibrahim Karawan, a U professor and the director of the Middle East Center. Professor Karawan was instrumental both in bringing Ibrahim to the U for this semester’s lecture series and in aiding Ibrahim’s release from prison.

“I had [Karawan] as a student. He’s been my colleague…he has been a loyal supporter during my ordeal. He spoke out on my behalf and signed all the petitions for my release, for my fair trial and whenever I’m under attack-and I am often under attack-he always stood up and supported me and my right to express myself and defend these causes,” Ibrahim said.

Shortly after the Court of Cessation overturned the charges against him and he was released from prison, Ibrahim was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and recognized with numerous awards as an international figure who has made outstanding contributions in the area of human rights.

He focused on democratization and its correlation with peace in the Middle East.

Ibrahim expressed regret that the Middle East, which makes up 7 percent of the world’s population, is responsible for 35 percent of the world’s violence.

“Having five times as much violence as its share in the world’s population is both alarming, wrenching, and is cause for concern and examination,” Ibrahim said. “My examination is that some legitimate grievances exist in the region, some of which were caused by the West, and they ought to be addressed.”

Ibrahim attributed poor World War I settlements which gave no regards to sociological, ideological or cultural realities of the region for much of the turmoil which has followed in the years since the war’s end.

“We have to look for solutions which address these historical grievances the best that the international community can do. And two, democratize the region,” Ibrahim said.

At least one onlooker at the lecture expressed his belief that the Qu’ran is not compatible with democracy.

“There is no contradiction whatsoever between Islam and democracy…any justification depends on your interpretation of the Qu’ran,” Ibrahim said. “You give me one scripture that says so, and I will give you 10 that say otherwise. This is just something dictators claim because they are afraid of peace and democracy.”

Ibrahim insisted he was not asking for help in his cause to further human rights and democratization from the U.S. government, but from civil society.

“Those who wish to help can use their democracy and freedoms to keep politicians honest and fair,” Ibrahim said. “Write to your congressman or senator.”

Ibrahim’s lecture at the U was the third of a nine-part series presented by the Middle East Center in accordance with several other offices on campus.

The next in the series is Tuesday Feb. 24 at 3 p.m. in the Utah Museum of Fine Arts’ Dumke Auditorium.

[email protected]