HOSNI Mubarak's authoritarian regime in Egypt is a necessary but embarrassing U.S. aid client and partner in the quest for Middle East peace.

The latest curtailment of domestic freedom was the kangaroo trial and seven-year sentence of a civic activist and scholar, Saadeddin Ibrahim, for monitoring elections, championing free speech and exposing discrimination against Coptic Christians.

Sentences against 20 other employees of his Ibn Khaldoun Center for Social Development Studies show how adamant the regime was to silence the sociology professor at American University in Cairo, who has U.S. citizenship.

Egypt enjoys the structure of a reputable judicial system. The appeals process offers some hope for justice winning out. It gives the regime a chance to rethink its priorities, values and fears.

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