INTERVIEW-Egypt dissident wants aid conditional on reform

CAIRO, Sept 25 (Reuters) - One of Egypt's most prominent political dissidents said on Tuesday that foreign donor aid to Cairo should depend on U.S. ally Egypt granting greater political freedoms.

Sociologist Saadeddin Ibrahim said he was lobbying Washington and the European Union to demand progress toward more judicial independence, greater media and civil society freedoms, and internationally supervised elections in exchange for aid.

He also wants to see an end to emergency laws put in place after the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat.

"All of the aid should be conditioned on benchmarks and a roadmap for democratic reform in Egypt," he told Reuters by telephone from Doha, the Qatari capital. Ibrahim has been abroad for the past four months and said he feared arrest at home.

"My agenda is reform and democratisation of my country. I want everything done to bring about that objective."

Ibrahim's remarks came as Egypt faced sudden U.S. fire over setbacks to press freedom and civil society.

A White House spokeswoman said on Monday that recent steps by the authorities "appear to contradict the Egyptian government's stated commitment to expand democratic rights".

Over the past month, Egypt has forcibly closed a human rights group that aided torture victims and sentenced seven journalists to jail over their work, including four convicted of defaming President Hosni Mubarak.

Ibrahim, a U.S.-Egyptian dual citizen who met U.S. President George W. Bush in Prague in June as part of a group of dissidents from around the world, said he believed Washington had been trying to press Egypt on reforms "informally behind closed doors", but that Egypt misread the signals.


Still, he said, the rare U.S. public criticism of its Arab ally was coming "pretty late". An Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Ibrahim, who was imprisoned in 2002 on charges including damaging Egypt's reputation abroad, said he again faced possible arrest should he return to Cairo as old accusations against him were revived, this time in the form of private legal complaints.

"My lawyers have advised me not to come back because there are nine filed requests with the attorney general in Egypt to investigate me," he said, adding he had no immediate plans to return to Egypt.

He said he believed the complaints, which he said were brought by members of the ruling party, were filed partly in response to his campaign to press the United States over aid to Egypt. Egypt is among the top recipients of U.S. foreign aid, receiving nearly $2 billion a year.

But the U.S. Congress has considered a bill that would hold back $200 million in military funds for Egypt unless it takes steps on reforms. Cairo views the proposal as interference in its domestic affairs.

Analysts say waning U.S. public pressure on Egypt has given the state a freer hand over the past year to act against critics in the run-up to an eventual transition of power from Mubarak, who, at 79, has been in power for a quarter of a century.

The most obvious successor is Mubarak's 43-year-old son Gamal, although he denies having presidential ambitions.