Dear President el-Sissi: I’m sure you are a very busy man these days.
Running a big country like Egypt is not an easy task. Rigging elections is hard work. Convincing millions that digging 20 miles of trench is a “new Suez Canal” is a burden. Keeping Egypt from becoming Syria is a full-time job that I’m sure requires arresting opponents, jailing journalists and suspending parliament. Getting rid of the entrenched Muslim Brotherhood is becoming your biggest battle, while working on modernizing the Islamic world is now your greatest jihad to attract international recognition.
Mr. President, I have been living in the United States for 35 years now, but I still feel a close connection to my native country. I am writing on behalf of my nephew Hassan in Egypt. Like thousands of young Egyptians, he was arrested during the crackdown on protesters almost three years ago in August. Hassan was a sweet 18-year-old boy, working hard to build his future. From my last visit to Egypt in 2011, I remember Hassan as a gentle, kind, lovely kid who loved traveling, camping and sports, a great inventor who was always thinking of new ways to improve things.
He has never been affiliated with any political or religious organization. That August, Hassan found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, arrested among the thousands who were lucky enough not to get killed the day of the crackdown on the al-Nahda sit-in protest. For weeks, his family didn’t know anything about Hassan. The anguish of his mum was overwhelming, knocking on every door and begging for any information to lead her to her son’s whereabouts.
They finally found him in Wadi El Natrun detention center in eastern Cairo, and he was later moved to the worst prison in Egypt, Tora, in suburban Cairo. To date, he hasn’t received any verdict or sentence. Hassan hasn’t had his day in court. His family has to go through great hardship every time they are allowed to visit him, from a long drive to the uncertainty hanging over their heads. Prison officials have turned the misfortune of prisoners into a business, extorting bribes from loved ones.
Hassan should be reunited with his family and friends. He needs to get his life back on track, return to school and his studies. Mr. President, my nephew is not a threat to the national security of Egypt. He and his fellow political prisoners are the future of Egypt.
In August, your ambassador to the U.S., Muhamed Tawfik, was visiting my city here in Minnesota attending a Friends of the Alexandria Library celebration. I interviewed the ambassador for my TV show. I asked him about political prisoners in Egypt, of whom there are more than 40,000, according to some human rights organizations’ estimates. They have been suffocated in a legal limbo, denied due process, their lawyers denied access to their trials. The ambassador didn’t deny the political prisoners count, but he denied that they haven’t been charged and asked for more information about anyone who was detained without charges. I gave the ambassador a letter from Hassan’s sister in which she reflected on her anguish since they took her brother Hassan away.
Dear Mr. President: I have heard about how much you love Egypt. I have no idea what kind of Egypt you love. You can’t love Egypt and put the future of Egypt in prisons; you can’t love Egypt and keep students from their schools; you can’t love Egypt and keep the noblest and brightest Egyptians in jail.
You can’t love Egypt while bringing out the worst in Egyptians: tribalism, hatred, xenophobia, anti-intellectualism and provincialism. You can’t love Egypt and turn it into one big prison.
Mr. Pharaoh Man, let my people go. Let my nephew go.
Ahmed Tharwat is host and producer of the Arab-American TV show BelAhdan. (More information at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/let-my-nephew-go.)