Egypt’s president Mohammed Morsi made the release of Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind sheik convicted of “seditious conspiracy” related to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, a corner stone of his presidential campaign. Morsi called for Abdel-Rahman’s release in his first public address as president-elect, at Tahrir Square in June. Media reports came out in September that officials in the Obama Administration were considering the request. The State Department, of course, denied that.
Now that Morsi is planning a visit to the United States, he’s doubled down on his efforts to secure the release of Abdel-Rahman, saying he would urge Obama personally for the sheik’s release or, at the very least, for more “humane” treatment and visitation rights. The sheik’s American lawyer, Lynne Stewart, was actually convicted of providing material support to terrorism in 2005 for passing notes from Abdel-Rahman to Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, the terrorist group in Egypt he was alleged to have led. That group has been pressing the Muslim Brotherhood to take a harder stance on the United States. From the Jamestown Foundation:
The GI [Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiya] is taking a hard stand on Egyptian-American relations, having urged Egyptian president Muhammad Mursi to cancel his September 23 visit to the United States to address the United Nations… GI spokesman Assem Abd al-Maged argued that Egypt did not need to worry about U.S. cuts in aid to Egypt as such cuts were “not in [the United States’] interest, as they know we are the superpower in the region”…
Though the Brothers may not be offering much in the way of political appointments, some veteran members of the GI are enjoying a bit of revisionary justice under the new regime. President Mursi pardoned 26 members of GI and its Islamic Jihad offshoot in July. Four members of GI who were sentenced to death in 1999 during Mubarak’s rule were released on September 5 pending a ruling in early November on their case. The four were among 43 Egyptians returned to Egypt through the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program after being sentenced to death in absentia in the “Albanian Returnees” case of 1999 (Ahram Online, September 5; al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], September 7). The GI members had been charged with attempting to overthrow the government, killing civilians and targeting Christians and the tourism industry.
President Obama has so far been silent about the sheikh’s release.