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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Sociologist Held For Defaming Egypt

CAIRO, Egypt -- As the United States celebrated its liberty Tuesday, a prominent Egyptian-American scholar was under lock and key in Cairo while police investigate charges related to a documentary he was making about free elections.

The unexpected arrest last week of Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a sociologist and one of the country's leading exponents of tolerance toward the Coptic minority, sent a shiver through the ranks of independent civic organizations in Egypt.

It appears to be another stroke by the authorities against pro-democracy organizations critical of President Hosni Mubarak's government.

Ibrahim, an Egyptian national who also holds U.S. citizenship, was taken into custody Friday. The sociology professor at the American University in Cairo is being held for 15 days while police investigate charges that he defamed Egypt and received money from foreign parties, including the United States and the European Union.

Police also ordered eight employees of his research center detained.

In a statement, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights accused the government of "terrorism against civil society institutions to deplete their resources and discourage them from defending human rights or backing democracy."

Ibrahim, founder of the Ibn Khaldoun Center for Development Studies, received his master's and doctorate at the University of Washington and taught at the University of California, Los Angeles as a visiting professor in 1980. He also taught for a time at DePauw University in Indiana.

According to his lawyer, Ibrahim has been accused of receiving funds from the European Union for a documentary on the election process that was regarded as "harming Egypt's reputation."

Some observers in the region have written that the arrest was aimed at nipping attempts by pro-democracy groups to monitor this November's general elections.

The conduct of elections in the past has favored Mubarak's ruling New Democratic Party.

Hafez abu Saada, Ibrahim's lawyer and head of the Egyptian human rights organization, said he sees an even broader strategy by the state.

"There is a general tendency by the state, now that the campaign against the militant [Islamic] groups has waned, to turn their sights on the human rights groups. It is a disturbing reality, and a very pessimistic one for the prospects of moving toward democracy in Egypt."

Germaine Demian, press officer of the European Commission in Cairo, said her organization does not know what to make of the objections to the documentary, which she said was an above-board and legal project.

"It's very ambiguous. Under the framework of an agreement between the government and the EU, we do have the right to fund out-of-government organizations," she said.

A contract existed between the EU and the Ibn Khaldoun Center, she said, adding that the documentary was intended to encourage the young and the illiterate to vote.

The total EU funding was at least $160,000, but only a portion of that was meant for the film, she said. The commission had hoped the documentary would win government approval in order to be shown on state television.

The U.S. Embassy said a consular officer had visited Ibrahim in Cairo's Liman Tora Prison and he appears to have been well treated. U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer also had raised the issue of the arrest "with a number of senior officials, including the prime minister," embassy spokesman David Ballard said.

Contacted at their home Tuesday, Ibrahim's American-born wife, Barbara, said she was putting her faith in the judicial system to "do the right thing and release him."

"I've lived in Egypt for 25 years. It is my home," she said. "I never thought I would see something like this happening to a respectable academic."