Aside from Saudi Arabia, the other long forgotten about Middle East autocratic ally of the United States known for arresting journalists, authors and activists is President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s Egypt.
On Sunday Reuters reported that police arrested author Abdul Khalik Farouk for a writing book criticizing the government’s handling of the economy. Egyptian authorities further seized copies of the book, “Is Egypt Really a Poor Country?” from the publisher, which analyzed various economic and social crises afflicting Egypt.
This comes as in a separate case an American citizen was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison on political charges of “attempting to overthrow the government” — though unlike the (now freed) Pastor Andrew Brunson case, it is receiving almost no media attention whatsoever.
Per Reuters, Farouk is currently being detained on “charges of publishing false news, security sources and the author’s wife said” — upon orders of the public prosecutor — for authoring the book which analyzed the Egyptian economy. He was taken from his home in a Cairo suburb on Sunday by police officers who confirmed he was being arrested precisely for writing the book.
Since President Sisi came to power in 2014 after rising to power as the youngest member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, a military junta that temporarily ruled Egypt after former President Hosni Mubarak was forced to to step down amidst a wave of so-called “Arab Spring” protest in 2011, he’s arrested thousands in what’s seen as a broad crackdown on political dissent.
Human rights groups say that Sisi is attempting to muzzle all dissent and freedom of speech while the authorities have cited the necessity of fighting terrorism and stopping outlawed groups like the Muslim Brotherhood from “spreading of false information”. The Egyptian military and police have also faced accusations of torture by human rights monitoring groups.
Meanwhile, it what appears a close parallel to Turkey’s two year detention of the now released Pastor Andrew Brunson, Egypt has actually held an American for five years in prison on politically related charges. 53-year-old Moustafa Kassem, who worked as a cab driver in New York, was swept up in mass arrests in 2013 related to the protests and violence that accompanied the Sisi government’s rise to power.
Kassem was finally in court in September, where he was sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of attempting to overthrow the government in a mass trial of 700 defendants. Similar to Brunson, Kassem’s case constitutes an American citizen being held as a political prisoner.
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, has vowed to withhold up $105 million in US military aid to Egypt until Cairo shows progress toward releasing the Egyptian-American.
According to a report in Al-Monitor:
Leahy’s office previously told Al-Monitor that the senator was withholding Egypt aid until Cairo fulfills a variety of human rights conditions. These include paying for medical treatment for an American citizen wounded in an Egyptian military attack, giving prisoners fair trial rights and overturning the 2013 convictions of NGO workers. Kassem’s case is now part of that hold. The aid is part of an annual $1.3 billion military aid package.
Interestingly, the Al-Monitor report makes the case that Kassem’s plight is very similar to that of Brunson’s — though the latter has been largely ignored in American press and among leading politicians.
Kassem’s lawyer, Praveen Madhiraju, told Al-Monitor, “For many, many months, this was soft-pedaled in various arms of the US government.” He added, “If you look at the Andrew Brunson case, that was an all-hands-on-deck case. I don’t know why Moustafa’s case should be any different.”
Indeed, the case of Jamal Khashoggi, murdered by a Saudi hit team and the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, could serve to shine a spotlight on other US allies in the region long known for cracking down on press freedoms. However, without the corresponding media pressure, Washington’s military relationship with Egypt and others will give it every excuse to keep looking the other way.
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