Egyptian president-for-life (in sickness and in health, till death do us part) Hosni Mubarak has pardoned the editor-in-chief of one of the country's main opposition newspapers after he was arrested for questioning Mubarak's state of health.
Ibrahim Issa [pictured], head of the al-Dustour daily newspaper and a well-known critic of the government, was incarcerated in 2007 and recently sentenced to 2 years in prison after publishing an editorial [ARABIC] that criticized the Mubarak regime for concealing from all Egyptian citizens the leader's health.
Mr. Issa wrote: "The president in Egypt is a god and gods don’t get sick. Thus, President Mubarak, those surrounding him, and the hypocrites hide his illness and leave the country prey to rumors. It is not a serious illness. It’s just old age. But the Egyptian people are entitled to know if the president is down with something as minor as the flu."
He continued, again with some sarcasm: "The [Egyptian] state wants to present him as a sacred person who never errs, with whom nobody competes. So he definitely cannot fall ill. And nobody should even dare to think he can die like other human beings! The issue now, however, involves the country’s present and future. As everyone knows, the president’s family and Mrs. Mubarak have been pushing for the president to give up power—during his lifetime—and pass it to his son Gamal. The president is the only member of the family who resists this idea either because he wishes to stay in power or because he’s worried about antagonizing the Egyptian people and some important army generals."
[Read the full translation of Mr. Issa's article.]
According to the BBC, the Egyptian authorities originally justified the arrest of Mr. Issa by citing national security issues, saying that his editorial "fuelled malicious rumours and scared away foreign investors."
Mubarak's pardon of Issa came on October 6, an Egyptian national holiday commemorating the 1973 war against Israel, now a date on which the president traditionally grants clemency.
Egypt has an infamous record of harassing and jailing journalists and bloggers, and almost all of its major news outlets are state-controlled. Normally the Mubarak government's suppression of media is concerned with the Muslim Brotherhood. But no government critic - not even in the blogosphere - is safe in Egypt.
Reporters Without Borders has Egypt on its list of "Internet Enemies" especially for targeting bloggers. In one of the most famous incidents of state crackdown, Mubarak's government set up a sting to entrap and arrest homosexuals in Egypt, who communicate via blogs because of strict laws against homosexuality.
The health of Mubarak, now 80 years old, has long been kept in secrecy. His son, Gamal, is tapped to succeed him, not necessarily democratically.
[UPDATE: Right about the time this post went live, the New York Times ran a front-page story about how the U.S. presidential hopefuls have been less than forthcoming about their medical/health status.]