MOHAMED SOLTAN, a U.S. citizen imprisoned for nearly two years in Egypt on trumped-up political charges, was abruptly freed Saturday and allowed to return to the United States. His release marked a rare concession by the regime of Abdel Fatah al-Sissi to the Obama administration, which restored full military aid to Egypt this spring and has been pressing for Mr. Soltan’s release. But it also underscored the unsavory depths to which U.S.-Egyptian relations have descended: While paroling a single American, Mr. Sissi enjoys U.S. tolerance of the most severe political repression in Egypt in more than a half-century.
Mr. Soltan’s flight to Washington came as Mr. Sissi’s campaign against domestic opponents continued unabated. A female human rights activist and lawyer, Mahienour el-Masry, was sentenced to prison on Sunday, along with a journalist and a poet, by an Alexandria court; on Monday, a Cairo court condemned 22 people to 10 years in prison for violating a law against protesting without a permit — even though the demonstration they allegedly participated in occurred nine months before the draconian law was decreed by Mr. Sissi’s regime.
On May 16, a judge sentenced 122 political defendants to death, including Mohamed Morsi, who was Egypt’s first democratically elected president before being overthrown by a Sissi-led coup. Among those given the death penalty were Sondos Asem, who served as Mr. Morsi’s foreign press spokeswoman and now studies at Oxford, and Emad El-Din Shahin, a respected political scientist now teaching at Georgetown University. Though Mr. Soltan was freed, three dozen others subjected with him to a sham trial in April are still serving life sentences, while his father, an official in Mr. Morsi’s government, has been sentenced to death.
Thousands of political prisoners crowd Egyptian jails, including hundreds of liberal and secular activists who fought to make Egypt a democracy in 2011 and opposed the excesses of Mr. Morsi’s Islamist government. According to reports by human rights groups, torture of detainees is rampant and more than 80 have died in detention since the July 2013 coup. Overall, 1,800 civilians, including 1,250 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, were killed between June 2013 and the end of 2014, according to Egypt’s semi-official National Council for Human Rights.
Mr. Soltan, who worked with foreign journalists and served as an unofficial spokesman during post-coup protests, was imprisoned without charges for nearly a year before being accused of “transmitting false news,” an offense deemed worthy of a life sentence. His trial was called grossly unfair by human rights monitors. But the only significant difference between him and thousands of others was his U.S. citizenship.
Mr. Sissi freed Mr. Soltan through a law he decreed last year allowing him to summarily deport foreign citizens; he employed the same power to free an imprisoned Australian journalist earlier this year. He evidently calculates that the token release of a couple of Western citizens will buy international acceptance of his unrelenting brutality. It shouldn’t. Tolerance of Egypt’s repression is enabling the destruction of the country’s secular and pro-democracy forces — and ensures endless turmoil along the Nile.