But elections are still a messy business. And the Interior Ministry’s intelligence bureaucracy has its hands in everything. Egypt, in short, is a country where students from the moneyed classes at the American University of Cairo staged three performances of The Vagina Monologues last month, but they had to answer to the Interior Ministry afterward.
In the jubilant atmosphere outside the courtroom, Ibrahim’s family mingled with the defense attorneys and human-rights activists. Levinson was wearing a broad smile, a week after Egypt’s ambassador to the United States apologized for the “misundertanding.” Amid the hugs and back slapping, it was hard to escape the sense that Egypt’s reformers were gathering momentum on the strength of small victories such as these.
Then I met Hossam Bahgat from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, standing off to the side. He called the trial a singular event: The judge was independent; the prosecutors had no evidence; the foreign diplomats had made their presence felt. A few weeks ago, he said, security officials picked up a pair of men selling bumper stickers near the downtown hotels. The bumper stickers read, “Cairo Traffic: red means go, green means stop.” They were charged with defaming Egypt’s reputation and tried in emergency courts. He figured they would wind up in jail, because the trial had already finished last week while the American observers had been in Courtroom 2, keeping an eye on the Ibrahim trial. Nobody was watching over the bumper-sticker salesmen.