By Tom Perry
CAIRO (Reuters) - Ayman Nour's attempt to win Egypt's presidency from Hosni Mubarak was followed by nearly four years in prison on charges widely seen as trumped up. He says an official vendetta against him continues under the generals ruling Egypt today.
The 47-year-old lawyer believes his experience with Egyptian officialdom shows how little has changed since Mubarak was toppled from power last February and replaced by the army council which has promised to steer Egypt towards democracy.
"We have taken one step forward but a number back," Nour said during an interview at his Cairo home.
"The military council is still a prisoner of the same old ideas, methods and enmities which were present in the Mubarak days," he said. "It is Mubarak's shadow."
In the last year, Nour said, an attempt to clear his name in court hit a dead-end and his efforts to set up a new political party were obstructed. In both cases he blamed state bias against him.
Because of his outstanding conviction, he will not be able to contest the presidential election this year. He also faces a travel ban pending investigations on what he called "farcical accusations" of inciting violent protests in December.
He campaigned against the odds in 2005, coming a distant second to Mubarak in a vote that was Egypt's first multi-candidate presidential election.
"It is no easier," said Nour, comparing those days to now. "There was an improvement for the first two or three months. Then things turned worse and it was as if we were back in Mubarak's days," he said.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has governed since February 11, when Mubarak stepped down in the face of mass protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square and other parts of the country.
The ruling generals have promised to hand power to an elected, civilian president by the end of June.
They have presented themselves as guardians of a revolution, allowing Egypt's most free legislative election since military officers overthrew the king in 1952. Pro-democracy activists, however, accuse them of trying to hang on to power.
"A HUGE MISTAKE"
"On January 25, 2011, a revolution started, but it is now ending in a military coup, without positive changes," Nour said. "Perhaps we made a mistake on February 11, 2011, a huge mistake, when we left Tahrir Square," he said.
He plans to take part in new protests called for January 25, the first anniversary of the anti-Mubarak uprising. The date is proving divisive, with the military, it supporters and Islamist parties calling for celebrations rather than more protest.
Nour spent close to four years in jail after his 2005 conviction for forging signatures required for the formation of his original party. He was let out early on health grounds.
A court rejected his appeal for a retrial in October, leaving the mark against his name that stops him from contesting the presidency.
After months of trying, Nour said, his attempt to set up a new party ended with success just one day before the start of official campaigning for the legislative election. "So we had only 24 hours to enter the elections," he said.
One member of his party said they were told by officials that Nour's outstanding conviction was the reason that last year's application had been initially rejected.
"They agreed to the Brotherhood, the Salafis," he said, referring to the official body which licensed parties for the Islamist groups which dominated the election that began in November and has concluded this month. Liberals fared badly.
Nour, who won 7 percent of the vote in the 2005 presidential election, estimated his new "Ghad Revolution Party" had won just one seat in parliament.
Even were he to get his conviction quashed in time, Nour hinted that he might not run in the presidential election expected to be held by the end of June.
"We will not take part in beautification of a game that is not serious. We do not have confidence in the military council steering the interim period, or the presidential elections.
"It wants, 100 percent, to have a role in picking the new president."
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alison Williams)