The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Egypt is employing hostage-taking to interfere in U.S. justice

Mohamed Soltan on May 31 in Fairfax.
Mohamed Soltan on May 31 in Fairfax. (Pete Marovich/For The Washington Post)

AS PRIME MINISTER of Egypt in August 2013, Hazem el-Beblawi authorized an attack on protesters in Cairo’s Rabaa Square that, by his own account, killed “close to 1,000” people. Among those wounded and arrested that day was Mohamed Soltan, a U.S. citizen who was working as a translator for Western journalists. For nearly two years, Mr. Soltan was held and brutally tortured in Egyptian prisons before being freed to return to the United States under pressure from the Obama administration.

Last month, Mr. Soltan, now a human rights advocate living in northern Virginia, filed suit against Mr. Beblawi, who also lives in the state while serving as a board member of the International Monetary Fund. Congress passed the Torture Victim Protection Act in 1992 to provide just such a remedy against former human rights offenders under U.S. jurisdiction. Mr. Beblawi, of course, has the right to defend himself in court and is doing so vigorously, hiring a large team of lawyers who are seeking the suit’s dismissal.

But that’s not his only defense. On his behalf, the Egyptian regime of Abdel Fatah al-Sissi has seized five of Mr. Soltan’s cousins and informed their families that they will not be freed unless the suit is dropped. Its embassy in Washington is meanwhile demanding that the State Department intervene in the lawsuit on Mr. Beblawi’s side, while warning that if it does not, the U.S.-Egyptian “strategic relationship” will be endangered. In effect, the Sissi regime is employing hostage taking and blackmail in an attempt to interfere with the U.S. judicial system.

All of this should spur further reconsideration of that supposedly strategic relationship, which at this point consists of little more than the rote transfer of $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid to the Egyptian military. Already the most repressive regime in Egypt’s modern history, the Sissi government has recently stepped up arrests of journalists, human rights activists and even doctors who question its handling of the covid-19 pandemic. In addition to seizing Mr. Soltan’s cousins, it is detaining the brother of Reem Desouky, an American released from unjust imprisonment in May, in order to “keep me from talking about what happened,” she told The Post.

The Sissi regime no doubt believes it can afford to indulge in this vile intimidation because of President Trump’s admiration for its leader, whom he has called “my favorite dictator.” In what looked like an attempt to appease the president, this week Cairo released Mohamed Amashah, another U.S. citizen it had been unjustly holding on political charges. As Mr. Sissi knows, Mr. Trump loves to boast of freeing Americans from foreign prisons.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded appropriately, welcoming Mr. Amashah’s release but adding that Egypt should “stop unwarranted harassment of U.S. citizens and their families who remain there.” Now Mr. Pompeo should reject Egypt’s appeal for intervention in the Beblawi case and let the alleged abuser defend himself.

Read more:

Mohamed Soltan: Don’t forget our loved ones, trapped in Egyptian prisons during this pandemic

The Post’s View: Another dissident dies in Egypt’s prisons as its dictator jails more

Mohamed Soltan: I was in prison with Mustafa Kassem. His death is a tragedy for Egypt — and the U.S.

The Post’s View: The pandemic threatens imprisoned dissidents and journalists everywhere. They must be freed.

The Post’s View: Egypt’s brutal retaliation against activists could fuel an Islamist revival