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Egypt releases Mubarak’s top rival

After years of largely ineffectual lobbying by human rights groups and the Bush administration, liberal Egyptian politician Ayman Nour has been released from prison for “medical reasons.” Rest assured, President Hosni Mubarak has not suddenly developed a humanitarian streak. Rather, it’s likely he’s looking to defuse the annual campaign against Egypt’s military aid package, which ...

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After years of largely ineffectual lobbying by human rights groups and the Bush administration, liberal Egyptian politician Ayman Nour has been released from prison for “medical reasons.”

Rest assured, President Hosni Mubarak has not suddenly developed a humanitarian streak. Rather, it’s likely he’s looking to defuse the annual campaign against Egypt’s military aid package, which will likely heat up before his visit to Washington in April. And, as the Jeffrey Fleishman suggests for the LA Times, he’s probably trying to show goodwill before U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s upcoming visit to Cairo.

Of course, our wily pal Hosni first made sure that Nour, who made a surprisingly strong showing in the 2005 presidential election, no longer poses a threat: As a convict, he’s barred from running again for a few years.

Most Egypt experts I know believe that Hosni is clearing the field (pdf) for his son, Gamal, who has emerged in recent years as a powerful player in Egyptian politics, but seems to crave democratic legitimacy — so long as he is guaranteed to win.

Hosni’s probably hoping he’s done just enough to keep the Obama administration off his back for the next few years. If past is prologue, his latest gambit will work.

UPDATE: Marc Lynch comments:

I’m very happy for Nour and his family, and for the end of the farcical case against him. His release does not come close to reversing the authoritarian trends in Egypt  I hope that this does not become an excuse to begin ignoring democratic reform, human rights and public freedoms issues in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. 

More here from a plugged-in, Cairo-based analyst.

Photo: AFP/Getty Images

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