Possibly Driven by U.S. Pressure, Egypt Frees No. 1 Political Prisoner

Officially, Ayman Nour was released for health reasons, but supporters credit Washington.

By + More

By Larry Derfner, Mideast Watch

Egypt's most prominent political prisoner, Ayman Nour, has unexpectedly been released because of what the government says are "health reasons." Nour and his supporters credited political pressure from the United States for his release. A liberal reformer who challenged longtime President Hosni Mubarak in the 2005 elections, Nour was imprisoned more than three years ago on election forgery charges. The 44-year-old activist, who is diabetic, says he will resume his political opposition to the Egyptian regime. The Dubai-based pan-Arab satellite TV station Al Arabiya reports:

Despite three years of "political and personal hardship," Nour revealed the same optimism he showed during his presidential campaign.

"My determination has not ceased. I will work for a democratic future in Egypt and will rebuild the Gad party with the help of Egyptians who want to renew the liberal political current in the country," he added. The U.S. administration of former President George W. Bush has called repeatedly on Egypt to release Nour. Cairo says its judiciary is independent and not politically motivated.

The Qatar-based pan-Arab satellite TV station al Jazeera reports that Nour appealed to President Obama in August to aid Arab reformers and suggests that the release of Nour may be Mubarak's way of getting on Obama's good side.

Afghanistan gives new meaning to 'cold war' The 17,000 additional U.S. troops President Obama is sending to Afghanistan should arrive in the spring, but the current severe winter, which exacerbates the effects of Afghanis' dire poverty, is playing into the hands of America's enemies. Al Jazeera reports:

[Afghani social scientist Haroun] Mir believes severe hardship during winter may create fertile ground for Taliban recruitment. While the severity of the winter will unfold over the first two months of the year, early snow already presages a difficult period for Afghans, thousands of whom live in villages inaccessible during the severest winter.

"Even inside Kabul many families cannot find food to have three meals a day. People here don't want creature comforts," he said.

"They just want bread to survive. If this is not possible, the security will deteriorate further."

Muslim action heroes to the rescue

Pop culture has become a vehicle for instilling pride in Muslim youth—and for generating profit—as heroes from Islamic history are showing up in video games, comic books, and theme parks. The pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Alawsat reports:

From video games like "Bab el-Hara" [which features a Syrian rebel fighting French colonial rulers in the 1930s] to a Kuwaiti entrepreneur's comic book empire featuring Muslim superheroes, the Arab world's private sector is leading a push to provide Muslim and Arab youth with homegrown heroes, something sorely needed as a bulwark against the trend toward radical Islam throughout the Middle East.

In Kuwait, Naif al-Mutawa had a similar vision. The Teshkeel Media Group founder, a psychologist, [created a] comic book empire. His "The 99"—as the comic book series is called—draws from the heyday of Muslim civilization. Each hero is named after one of the 99 qualities the Quran attributes to God, such as "The Powerful" and "The Loving."

Read more of Larry Derfner's Mideast Watch.