US-Egyptian government opponent returns to Egypt after 3 year exile

CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian-American academic and vocal government critic returned to Egypt late Wednesday for his first visit after a three year exile despite outstanding complaints filed against him for damaging Egyptian interests.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim's return is coming at a sensitive period as opposition voices have become more vocal than ever before, especially over rising prices and the widespread belief that President Hosni Mubarak is trying to engineer his son's succession.

In fact it was Ibrahim, 71, himself who was among the first Egyptians to publicly criticize in 2000 signs that Mubarak might looking hand over the reins of power to his son.

"This is family visit, a homecoming," he told The Associated Press by telephone from the airport. He said he was looking forward to "quietly" meeting with former students, friends and family. "I hope nothing will happen."

Ten years ago, Ibrahim was charged with embezzlement and tarnishing the image of the country in a series of trials and imprisonments that dragged on for three years and came to symbolize the state's intolerance of criticism.

The U.S. administration criticized his incarceration and the issue became a sore point between the two governments.

Ibrahim was eventually acquitted and continued writing and advocating for greater freedoms in Egypt until a series of complaints filed by private citizens with links to the government forced him to leave the country or face more lengthy litigation.

His lawyer Shady Talat said Egypt's prosecutor "reassured" him that Ibrahim is not on a wanted list but declined to discuss nine outstanding complaints.

Talat said he feared the complaints were being kept in reserve by the government and could still be implemented.

Observers say lawsuits filed by private citizens have become the government's new way to intimidate its opponents.

Many of the complaints allege Ibrahim's criticism of the Egyptian government prompted the U.S. Congress to reduce its aid to Egypt.

The latest complaint came this year when one lawyer accused Ibrahim of facilitating contact between the U.S. administration and another Egyptian government opponent, Mohammed ElBaradei, the former head of the UN nuclear agency.

ElBaradei's recent return to Egypt and his campaign for constitutional reform has irked the government and its supporters.

Ibrahim recently wrote, after meeting ElBaradei with other Egyptians living abroad, that the former diplomat needs a "plan B" to push for reform in Egypt. "He may not be a field fighter ... but is he ready for civil disobedience?"

Talat said the authorities are unlikely interested in harassing Ibrahim at this stage because his return does not represent a real threat to them.

"There is no serious presidential candidate for next year's elections for Ibrahim to support," he said. The government "has no fear of anything."

Ibrahim will be in Cairo for a two week visit.