CAIRO, Egypt - An editor who was sentenced to a year in jail for insulting President Mubarak is refusing to abandon his crusade to fully report a wave of legal challenges to the legitimacy of the Egyptian leader.
This week's issue of the opposition newspaper al-Dustour will tell of 20 lawsuits filed against Mr. Mubarak since he was re-elected to a fifth term in September accusing him of everything from political incompetence to graft.
The decision to publish a story last April about one of these suits prompted a judge on June 26 to sentence al-Dustour's editor, Ibrahim Iessa, the reporter who penned the piece, Sahar Zaki, and the lawyer who filed it, Said Hamed Abdullah, to a year in jail for defaming the president.
In the ruling, the judge said freedom of the press flows not from the law but from the president himself. In his decision, Judge Osama Salah said, "These pens come back as arrows toward the chest of he who bestowed the freedom of speech upon them."
Mr. Iessa's first reaction to the verdict was to assign Ms. Zaki to find other examples of suits against the president. On deadline last night, the 40-year-old editor said in an interview: "Of course we are undeterred. The whole verdict is illegal in this case. Besides, what happens if Mubarak is found guilty? We plan on asking for compensation."
There is no chance Mr. Mubarak will be found guilty, but the fact that some have taken to the courts as a form of protest suggests the spirit of democratic protest here has not been crushed after a series of crackdowns this spring.
Mr. Abdullah's suit is striking in its scope. Not only does it ask the court to overturn the protection the president enjoys from prosecution, it asks the court to require Mr. Mubarak, his wife, his son and likely heir, the minister of justice, the head of the supreme court, and the chairman of the people's assembly to return some 500 billion Egyptian pounds it says the regime has looted. Mr. Abdullah goes further by accusing Mr. Mubarak of lying when he said he would allow political parties to operate openly.
Mr. Iessa's decision to focus on Mr. Abdullah's lawsuit and others like it is in keeping with al-Dustour's reputation as a thorn in the regime's side. During Mr. Mubarak's campaign last summer, the newspaper ridiculed the president's efforts to appear in touch with average Egyptians.
In one issue, al-Dustour ran a close-up of the president's pen, putting its price at 6,000 Egyptian pounds, a sum equal to most Egyptians' annual salaries.
When Mr. Mubarak announced his decision to seek a fifth term, Mr. Iessa reran a headline from 1981, when Mr. Mubarak assumed the presidency after the assassination of Anwar Sadat, that read, "President Mubarak: 'I Will Not Nominate Myself for More Than Two Terms.'"
"We are living in a police state, but this is like the last days of Pinochet," Mr. Iessa said, referring to the deposed Chilean dictator.
Mr. Iessa is no stranger to censorship. He started al-Dustour in 1995, but it was closed in 1998 for defaming the government. He won a legal appeal in 2001 to reopen the paper, but was only given formal permission to do so last year.
In 1999, Mr. Iessa published a comic novel, "Death of the Big Man," about an ailing Egyptian leader trying to groom his son for the presidency but who suddenly dies and the Egyptian military takes over. "I thought the novel was comic, but the conclusions were taken very seriously here," he said with a wry nod.
Mr. Iessa does not attack the Muslim Brotherhood. "I make fun of the regime. I cannot do that with the Brotherhood or anyone in the opposition. I have intellectual differences with them, but so many of them are in jail. I will not write against them now."
Nonetheless, in the early 1990s Mr. Iessa had to rely on state protection after Islamists plotted to kill him. "I distinguish between the political Islamists, like the Brotherhood, and the violent terrorists, like Zarqawi," he said. "The violent kind are rubbish to me."
Mr. Iessa, like many liberals here, has been critical of President Bush's backsliding over supporting democracy in Egypt. When asked for his opinion of America's ambassador in Cairo, Frank Ricciardone, Mr. Iessa said, "He should get a job with our Foreign Ministry."
Mr. Iessa said he believes that the Americans have backed off their policy of pressing for political reform out of fear it would allow the Muslim Brotherhood to come to power. The Brotherhood won 88 seats, more than all the other opposition parties combined, last November.
"Mubarak is always intimidating the Americans with the scarecrow of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Americans get intimidated. But let them wait for more repression from Mubarak and they will get Khomenei," Mr. Iessa said.