An Open Letter to Egyptian Ambassador to the United States,
Dear Ambassador Motaz Zahran
As we all are celebrating the holiday season and the new year. This is the 9th year for my 26-year-old nephew, Hassan, to celebrate another new year in prison in Egypt for a crime he didn’t commit. Nine years away from his family, university friends, and life, and particularly away from his father, my brother, who got a stroke a few years ago. My nephew, Hassan, was a sweet, fun-loving 17-year-old boy, who loves traveling, music, reading, and camping. I remember Hassan as a gentle and kind kid when I visited Egypt. He always came to me and would proudly show me his latest invention that he had made out of old throwaway stuff, like an elevator of cardboard, aluminum foil, and wire that, unlike some of the elevators I had taken in Egypt, actually worked.
Hassan was the “nice one” of a set of twins. His brother, Hussein was the nutty one, who is now traumatized by the loss of his twin brother. I have been trying to help in securing my nephew’s release for years to no avail. I have talked to our politicians here, written letters, protested, and prayed. The office of Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar replied to that me there is nothing we can do as “your nephew is not an American national”. Other politicians told me personally, “President El-Sisi doesn’t listen to the State Department anymore.” Keith Ellison, Minnesota Attorney General, who was a Representative from Minnesota when I first interviewed him, pleaded for the release of my nephew every time he spoke on my show. I started a #LetMyNephewGo petition, sending a message to the Egyptian Ambassy in Washington, but never received a reply or acknowledgment. Nothing has worked so far, so on the eve of this new year and holiday season, I’m sending an open letter to the current Egyptian ambassador to the U.S., as a last resort. When the former Ambassador, Mohamed M. Tawfik, came to Minneapolis to visit the Egyptian community right after the military coup that replaced President Morsi in Egypt with General El-Sisi, I had the chance to interview him. I asked him what Egypt needs from Egyptians living in America right now. “Egyptians in America are our messengers to the world, and we need their support to help us tell the story of new Egypt,” he remarked. Then I asked him about all the political prisoners, including my nephew Hassan, who were detained for months without any trial. “Everyone in prison in Egypt has had seen his day in court, and committed a crime,” he explained, which he knew was not true. Before the interview and during social hour, I met the ambassador’s friendly wife. We talked about Egypt and what is like to be the wife of an ambassador. She was elegant and personable.
“Do you have kids,” I asked her.
“Of course, and some of them are grown up and have families of their own,” she said with a pleasant smile.
“Could you as a mother give this letter from Hassan’s mother to your husband,” I gave her a letter from Hassan’s mother pleading for his release and talking about how much she misses him? She took the letter, and without looking at it; she looked directly at me and whispered, “Let me tell you something, Ahmed, even my husband cannot do anything about it, this is a political case”.
Your Honorable Ambassador Zahran, can you do something about this now? It has been nine years Hassan has been sitting rotten in a crowded prison cell where Covid-19 spreading without proper healthcare.
Hassan was arrested during the crackdown of the Nahda Square sit-in in August 14, 2013. He lived a few blocks from this square, where thousands of Egyptians had a sit-in to protest the toppling of elected president Morsi. On that day, Hassan found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hassan was arrested while thousands were killed that day. For weeks, and months his family didn’t even know anything about what had happened to him. Living in agony and despair, they finally found him in Wady El Natron detention center in Eastern Cairo. Hassan was later put into a group trial of 500 that I watched painfully on T.V.; that trial was a complete farce. Hassan wasn’t even there. He didn’t have any legal representation, and he never met his accusers or knew of the crimes he was accused of. For the 500 detainees, the judge read the sentences of different groups as if he were seeing it for the first time, casually rendering the verdicts. The first group would be executed, and the second group got a sentence of 25 years. Then Hassan was among a group of about 125 prisoners who were sentenced to 15 years with hard labor. Remember, Hassan was just a 17-year-old kid at the time with hopes and a future; now, he has none. Mr. Ambassador Let my nephew go.
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