"It's a signal, and the Egyptians will have to read a strong message into it that [human rights violations] do cost," said a senior Bush administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "This case is important."
Ibrahim was a professor of sociology at American University in Cairo and served as the director of the Ibn Khaldoun Center for Social Development Studies. In May 2001 he was convicted on charges that stemmed largely from his work monitoring elections and documenting the status of Coptic Christians in Egypt. The court also convicted 27 other employees of the center for aiding and abetting Ibrahim in the alleged activities, though not all received prison time.
The convictions were overturned by an appeals court and a new trial was ordered.
At his first trial, the court refused to allow Ibrahim and his defense team to see the evidence the prosecution claimed to have. The three-judge panel convicted him after 90 minutes of deliberations.
Barbara Ibrahim was shocked at her husband's imprisonment, but not entirely surprised: For many years, there had been a drumbeat against him.
The vitriol began in 1994 when he played host to a meeting on minorities in the Arab world and discussed the issue of the Copts, a religious denomination to which he doesn't belong.
That led to widespread attacks against him in the government-controlled media. Then he was castigated publicly for talking with Israeli peace groups that opposed the occupation of the Palestinian territories.
A Slew of Death Threats
But the death threats didn't start until February 2000. Night after night, men would call, saying they were Islamic militants and would kill the whole family because of Ibrahim's support for the Copts. The harassers stopped as soon as the Ibrahims installed "caller ID," making Barbara wonder how the culprits knew about the move--and exactly who was behind the calls.
Then in May 2000, an employee of his center called to say the police had broken in at night.
"I remember, I was in bed, and Saad said [on the telephone], 'Well, I don't have anything to hide. Maybe it's a good thing.' "
One month later, their house was surrounded by armed troopers and he was taken away at gunpoint.
Times staff writer Robin Wright in Washington contributed to this report.