Saad Eddin Ibrahim (December 31, 1938 – September 29, 2023) was a prominent Egyptian sociologist, author, and fearless advocate for human rights and democracy. His life was marked by unwavering dedication to civil society and the pursuit of justice in Egypt.
Early Life and Academic Career
Born in Bedeen, Mansoura, Egypt, Saad Eddin Ibrahim made significant contributions to Egypt’s contemporary research-based civil society movement. For most of his illustrious career, he served as a professor in the Department of Sociology at the American University in Cairo (AUC). Prior to his tenure at AUC, he taught sociology at Indiana’s DePauw University from 1967 to 1974. His academic journey also took him to UCLA in Los Angeles in 1979 as a visiting professor.
In addition to his academic pursuits, Ibrahim served as the Secretary General of the Arab Thought Forum, chaired by Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan, from 1984 to 1989. His commitment to academic excellence and his passion for societal change were evident throughout his career.
Advocacy and Activism
Saad Eddin Ibrahim’s advocacy work spanned various causes, demonstrating his commitment to justice and equality:
He gained the respect of Egypt’s human rights and civil society community for championing different causes, including Copts, Baháʼís, and other minorities during times of rising sectarian tensions. His efforts aimed at ensuring the rights and dignity of all citizens, regardless of their background.
Advocate for Democracy
Ibrahim was a staunch advocate for democracy in Egypt. He supported fair elections and promoted international democratic alliances. He called for conditions on U.S. military aid to Egypt, tying it to improvements in human rights and the release of political prisoners, a stance that garnered both praise and criticism.
Legal Battles and Imprisonment
Ibrahim’s commitment to democracy led to legal challenges. In 2000, he was arrested, imprisoned, and prosecuted for using European Union funds for election monitoring. He was also accused of defaming Egypt’s image abroad. These charges were widely seen as politically motivated, driven by his outspoken criticism of President Hosni Mubarak and his administration. Ibrahim faced a seven-year prison sentence, but he managed to secure acquittals on appeal, with the High Court ruling that his civic activities were protected, and the government had overstepped its bounds in prosecuting him.
Exile and Return
In 2007, Saad Eddin Ibrahim went into voluntary exile after tensions with President Mubarak escalated due to his role in organizing a Conference on Arab Democracy in Qatar and speaking with President George Bush about Egypt’s situation. He returned to Egypt in 2011 following Mubarak’s departure from office, celebrating the 25 January revolution.
Legacy and Passing
Throughout his life, Saad Eddin Ibrahim received numerous awards for his scholarship and human rights work. His fearless pursuit of justice and democracy made him a symbol of hope for many Egyptians. He continued to contribute to societal discourse through his weekly column in El Masry el Youm newspaper and hosted open seminars at the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies (IKDS).
Saad Eddin Ibrahim’s legacy lives on in the hearts of those he inspired and in the pursuit of justice and democracy in Egypt. His passing on September 29, 2023, marked the end of an era, but his ideals continue to inspire those who believe in the power of democracy and human rights.