Page last updated at 22:49 GMT, Monday, 6 October 2008 23:49 UK

Egypt leader pardons media critic

By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Cairo

Ibrahim Eissa - file photo from 2007
Mr Eissa's paper argued Egypt had a right to know about Mubarak's health

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has pardoned a newspaper editor sentenced to jail for publishing an article questioning his state of health.

Ibrahim Issa was last month given a two-month jail sentence for printing pieces a court said were likely to disturb public security.

Al-Dustour's editor-in-chief is one of the president's more outspoken critics.

Mr Mubarak issued the pardon on Armed Forces Day "to affirm his concern for freedom of opinion", state media said.

The 80-year-old also wanted to ensure there was "no feud between him as president and any Egyptian citizen", the Mena state news agency added.

Touchy topic

An Egyptian national holiday, 6 October saw the start of the 1973 war with Israel, as well as the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

Mubarak needs to answer when he will put an end, once and for all, to the issue of jailing journalists
Hisham Kassem,
Cairo newspaper publisher

By tradition it is also an occasion when the president announces his official pardons.

Last year, Mr Issa's newspaper carried an article arguing that the Egyptian people had a right to know about the health of Mr Mubarak - who has been president for nearly three decades.

"The state wants to present [Mr Mubarak] as a sacred person who never does anything wrong, with whom nobody can compete," said the article.

"He can never fall ill. Nobody should dare to think he can die like other human beings!"

The presidential succession is a sensitive topic in Egypt that few dare to raise in public.

'No gratitude'

The authorities say the article fuelled malicious rumours and scared away foreign investors.

Supporters campaign for Ibrahim Eissa
Campaigners demonstrated against the court's verdict last week

This, said the state, resulted in a $350m (172m) fall in the value of Egypt's stock market.

The journalist had won notable support from Washington. A Bush administration spokesman said last year the White House was deeply concerned about the conviction and sentencing of newspaper editors.

The presidential pardon has received a measured response from the Egyptian media.

"I don't feel gratitude," said Hisham Kassem, a Cairo newspaper publisher.

"Mubarak needs to answer when he will put an end, once and for all, to the issue of jailing journalists."

"Until then, there will always be harassment of different types."

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