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Saad Eddin (also Sa’d al-Din) Ibrahim is an Egyptian academic and human rights activist.


Born in Mansura, Egypt, on 3 December 1938, Ibrahim completed his B.A. at Cairo University (1960) and his Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Washington (1968). He is currently professor of political sociology at the American University in Cairo. Ibrahim taught at the American University of Beirut (AUB), De Paul University in Chicago, the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and the University of Washington. He holds Egyptian and U.S. passports.


Ibrahim is the author and editor of several books and scholarly articles that have been published in Arabic and English periodicals. Among his books are Sociology of the Arab-Israel Conflict, The New Arab Social Order, Society and State in the Arab World, Family, Gender and Population in the Middle East, and Egypt, Islam and Democracy .

In 1988 he established the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies in Cairo, focusing on issues of development, democratization, and gender empowerment. He is the center’s director and chairs its board of trustees. Ibrahim is also the treasurer of the Association for the Support of Women Voters (Hay’at Da’m al-Nakhibat), known as the Hoda Association.

Another dimension of Ibrahim’s center focuses on encouraging women’s participation in public life, including running for Parliament, a program for microcredit for women and the poor in several areas of Egypt, literacy campaigns, and reproductive health projects. The Ibn Khaldun Center holds weekly forums open to the public and publishes a monthly newsletter.

In June 2000 the Ibn Khaldun center and the Hoda Association were involved in preparing and training monitors for the parliamentary elections in Egypt. On the evening of 30 June, Ibrahim and several of his staff members were arrested and taken into custody by officers of the Egyptian State Security Prosecution. Ibrahim and his code-fendants were accused of accepting and defrauding a grant from the European Union and conspiring to bribe public officials to undermine the performance of their duties. Most fundamentally, Ibrahim was accused of defaming Egypt in his writings. On the day of his arrest Ibrahim had published an article in a London-based, widely distributed Arabic-language magazine in which he wrote about political succession in Arab autocratic regimes. In this article, titled “al-Jumlikiyya (Republican Monarchy): The Arab Contribution to Politics in the 21st Century,” Ibrahim wrote that any leader that remains in power more than ten years develops a sense of ownership of the country. In his article Ibrahim argued that, according to shari’a (Islamic law), a father bequeaths his wealth to the oldest son and this could be the case in Egypt where the Egyptian president HUSNI MUBARAK was grooming one of his sons to succeed him. Egyptian authorities accused Ibrahim of defending the rights of minorities in Egypt and in other Arab countries.

The trial of Ibrahim lasted three years. In 2003 the Court of Cassation in Egypt (Egypt’s highest court) acquitted Ibrahim and his codefendants and reprimanded the Mubarak regime. The court stated that the activities of the Ibn Khaldun Center were legitimate, including receiving grants and publishing in foreign languages. Egyptian authorities attacked Ibrahim for spreading negative images of Egypt in non-Arabic-language publications. A few days before Ibrahim’s release, the Ibn Khaldun Center’s library was looted, and documents and pictures were destroyed.

Ibrahim’s arrest and trial provoked an international outcry. Several international professional academic associations and human rights organizations intervened on his behalf, attending part of his trial and writing public letters of appeal to Husni Mubarak. Following the release of Ibrahim and the others, the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies resumed its research into development, civil society, and democratization in Egypt and the Arab countries. It also pursued its activities that focused on empowering Egyptian women to participate in the political process.

Ibrahim’s latest efforts have focused on the creation of an Arab Endowment for Democracy. The idea behind this is to create an Arab-funded organization in order to avoid the accusation of accepting grants from foreign sources. For this purpose, Ibrahim approached several wealthy Arab businessmen and asked them to provide seed money for this endeavor. The endowment was launched at a conference in April 2007 in Doha, Qatar.


Name: Saad Eddin (Sa’d al-Din) Ibrahim

Birth: 1938, Mansura, Egypt

Family: Wife, Barbara; son, Amir; daughter, Randa

Nationality: Egyptian and American

Education: B.A., Cairo University, 1960; Ph.D. (sociology), University of Washington, 1968


  • 1988: Founds Khaldun Center
  • 2000: Arrested by the Egyptian government
  • 2003: Released from prison

In his writings, Ibrahim focused on the place of freedom in Islamic thought and the prospect for reformation in Islam. He tackled one of the fundamental dilemmas facing Muslims in the early twenty-first century: their relationship and attitude toward the West. Ibrahim wrote that three kinds of answers emerged in the Arab world regarding the West. The first, advocated by Sayyid Qutb, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who was executed by the Egyptian government in 1966 and one of the main theoreticians of the Islamist radical movement, was that Muslims ought to return to the straight path of pure Islam to be able to face the West. The second was that, while the Arab world was in state of decline and stagnation, the West caught up with Arab scientific and cultural achievements. The best solution was for Arabs and Muslims to imitate the West and adapt its scientific, technological, political, and economic models. Ibrahim mentioned Egyptian rulers Isma’il Pasha and Anwar Sadat as great emulators of the West. The third solution was to find a compromise between a total rejection and total emulation of the West. The best solution, he thought, was to combine the best of Arab and Muslim tradition and heritage with Western modernity.

Regarding the prospects for a reformation of Islam, Ibrahim quotes Gamal al-Banna, a member of the Ibn Khaldun Center’s board of trustees and brother of Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. For Gamal al-Banna, “Islam—as a heritage, as a theology, and as a system of rituals—has not experienced the kind of reformation that both Christianity and Judaism have. As a result our Shari’a and our Islamic thought have not been critiques in 1000 years” (Interview, 11 February 2007, available from http://www.democratiya.com). For al-Banna the best solution was for Muslims to delve into ijtihad (reinter-pretation of Islamic texts) and adapt Islam to the twenty-first century.

Ibrahim has also called for an alliance between Arab democratic forces and moderate modern Islamists. He advocates a policy of inclusion toward groups such as Hamas in Palestine, Hizbullah in Lebanon, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. For Ibrahim there is a possibility, even a need, to open dialogue with Islamist groups in order to enhance the democratic process in the Arab world. He uses the examples of Turkey where the Justice and Development Party assumed power.

Ibrahim also tackled the issue of Arab exceptionalism, or the incompatibility between Islam and democracy. For Ibrahim, two-thirds of the 1.4 billion Muslims in the world today live under some kind of democratic systems, for example, in countries such as Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Turkey, Senegal, and Nigeria.

Despite various experiments with liberal systems (Egypt, Syria, and Iraq) democracy in the Arab world was aborted because of the Arab defeat against Israel in 1948. Arab regimes have used the confrontation with Israel as an excuse to impose authoritarian rule. For Ibrahim, Arab autocratic regimes have used electoral gains by Islamist groups such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood to scare the West and deter its attempts to promote democracy in the Arab Middle East. Following his release from prison in 2003, Ibrahim addressed the Bush administration’s campaign to promote democracy in the Arab world. He urged the United States, “first, tell the autocrats to open up the system. Second, tell the autocrats to end the use of ‘emergency laws.’ Third, pressure the autocrats to free up the public space.”

Ibrahim has long been a champion for human rights. He founded the Arab Organization for Human Rights, the Arab Council for Childhood and Development, as well as the Initiative for Peace and Cooperation in the Middle East. He is a member of the board of the Minority Rights Group International in London. Ibrahim is on the advisory council of the World Bank’s Advisory Council for Environmentally Sustainable Development and Transparency International’s council of governance. He also is president of the Egyptian Sociologists Association, secretary general of the Egyptian Independent Commission for Electoral Review, and on the board of directors of the International Bureau for Children’s Rights.


Saad Eddin Ibrahim is highly regarded around the world as one of Egypt’s leading political scientists and commentators on Egyptian and Arab affairs. He regularly appears in the Western and Arab media, and the Khaldun Center is considered the leading academic center in Egypt in the early twenty-first century. When he was arrested and tried by the Egyptian government, letters of protest poured into Egypt from organizations and individuals around the world. He received the Committee on Human Rights of Scientists’ Heinz R. Pagels Human Rights of Scientists Award in 2003, and the Bette Bao Lord Award for Writing on Freedom from Freedom House in 2002.


Ibrahim will be remembered for the academic rigor with which he pursued his research, his skill in interpreting modern trends in Egypt, and his contributions toward human rights and the creation of a free and vibrant civil society in Egypt.

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