Egyptian court rejects request from prominent dissident asking his case be reviewed

An Egyptian court on Tuesday turned down a request from the country's leading opposition prisoner to review whether his jail sentence was endangering his health.

The development came as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice - who has in the past called for greater democratic reform in Egypt but recently eased off pressure on Cairo - was in the country. Rice and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates were meeting with nine Arab allies here to rally support for the U.S.-backed Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

The court in Cairo said that expert reports presented by leading opposition dissident in jail, Ayman Nour, did not prove that his condition was life-threatening, according to the semiofficial Middle East News Agency.

Nour, who is serving a five-year prison sentence for allegedly forging signatures on petitions to register his political party, has complained of heart and eye problems. A diabetic dependent on insulin, he also underwent cardiovascular surgery while in prison.

"The forensic reports and the experts brought by Nour confirm that he suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes, but the reports say that his heart is not in bad condition and that will not make any difference whether he is inside or outside prison," as statement from the court said.

Nour challenged President Hosni Mubarak for the presidency in 2005, finishing a distant second in Egypt's first contested presidential elections.

International rights groups and Western governments rebuked Egypt for prosecuting him, adding weight to Nour's charge that the trial was politically motivated - an accusation Egypt denies.

Nour has also been questioned in recent months on allegations of slander initiated by pro-government lawmaker and editor, Mustafa Bakri, who accused Nour of publishing "blasphemous" remarks in his party's newspaper.

U.S. President George W. Bush, who has also criticized Nour's conviction, further railed Mubarak's government and some Egyptian media when the American leader last month met with leading human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim and specifically criticized Nour's detention.

When Rice met with Mubarak on a previous visit here in March, she did not press the U.S. ally on Nour's case but instead praised the Egyptian leader for his support of U.S. Mideast policies.