An Egyptian court on Tuesday turned down a request from the country's leading opposition prisoner Ayman Nour to free him on health grounds, and handed his job to a rival instead.
The Supreme Administrative Court rejected Nour's long-standing request to be freed on medical grounds due to complications from diabetes, saying that expert reports did not prove that his condition was life-threatening, according to the semiofficial Middle East News Agency.
An hour after the ruling, Egypt's Political Parties Committee, which is affiliated to the Shura Council, ruled that his rival Moussa Mustafa Moussa be appointed Ghad Party chief.
Moussa, the former deputy chairman of the party, broke ranks with Nour in September 2005 to launch his own bid to be recognized as party chairman. The committee's ruling was based on a court ruling passed in Moussa's favor by Cairo's Southern Court last month.
"Suspending the legal status of the Ghad (Tomorrow) Party and the refusal to free Ayman Nour on medical grounds while U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was visiting sends a clear message," said Nour's wife and party vice president, Gameela Ismail.
Once a dynamic young politician who founded a secular liberal party, Nour was popular with Westerners calling for more democracy in Egypt. When he was first jailed in 2005, Rice sharply rebuked the government.
But the United States has recently reduced its pressure for reform in Egypt and the region. Tuesday's visit by Rice to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh is instead focused on gaining Arab regimes' support for U.S. policies in the region.
"It is clear that reform and Ayman Nour are no longer U.S. priorities," said Ismail.
"The party will persist in its work because its legality does not come from the system or the government but from the street," she added.
After he was first jailed in 2005, Nour went on to run against long-serving Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the country's first open presidential elections where he came in a distant second. His party went on to splinter under infighting and the weight of a barrage of government-inspired lawsuits.
Moussa, his chief financier, later led a rebellion against him and filed a case with the political parties committee, dominated by government figures, to name himself president.
Meanwhile, Nour was sentenced to five years in prison for forging the affidavits to found his party -- a charge supporters say was trumped up.
Nour has complained of heart and eye problems. A diabetic dependent on insulin, he also underwent cardiovascular surgery while in prison.