U.S. citizen and her child arrested in Egypt over Facebook posts
Reem Mohammed El-Desoky and her son.

On Sunday, July 7, Egyptian authorities arrested a U.S. citizen, Reem Mohammed El-Desoky, and her 12-year-old son when they arrived at the airport in Cairo. The mother and her son live in Lancaster, Penn.

After being held for 12 hours, El-Desoky was sent to jail and her child was delivered to the family who had contacted the U.S. embassy in Cairo asking for help. The embassy has taken no known measures to ascertain why El-Desoky was detained or to protect her from the routinely bad mistreatment visited upon Americans being held in Egyptian jails.

Because of the increasingly miserable situation in Egypt, especially regarding human rights, El-Desoky had recently started criticizing the Egyptian military dictator, Al-Sisi, and his regime on social media platforms. In addition to running her Facebook page, El-Desoky was an administrator of other pages that criticized the ruling regime in Egypt as well. All of her pages were deleted after her arrest.

According to her brother, Noor El-Desoky, she is incarcerated at Qanater Women’s Prison. The U.S. embassy, he says, is procrastinating in taking any steps to help his sister or investigate the case. The U.S. embassy, like the Egyptian government, has imposed a news blackout on the incident, with both refusing to answer any questions.

Attempts by human rights organizations to secure information about why El-Desoky was arrested, and exactly what the charges are against her, have proven fruitless. According to Arabi 21, Taha Ali is one of the human rights activists in the U.S. who reported this incident to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Taha told Arabi 21 that El-Desoky had criticized the Sisi regime over human rights violations.

El-Desoky is only the latest of many American citizens thrown into prison in Egypt since Al-Sisi seized power. Some have been sitting in jail since 2013 with no help from the U.S. embassy in Cairo.

Early in his term, President Donald Trump did intercede, with success, in a similar case. In April 2017, Trump called Sisi about the case of Aya Hijazi, an American citizen who had been sentenced to a term of life in prison over her advocacy for human rights in Egypt. After Trump’s call, Hijazi and nine other prisoners, including her husband, were released.  After she arrived in the U.S., Trump invited Hegazi to meet with him and celebrate at the White House. Trump bragged at the time, saying, “We are very happy to have Aya back home. It was a simple call and it really worked so quickly.” It was a performance, of course, to show Americans how Trump would protect them no matter where they were in the world.

Beyond that initial show, however, Trump and his administration have done nothing to help other U.S. citizens in Sisi’s prisons. He has ignored appeals, for example, on behalf of the 19-year-old U.S. citizen Ahmad Hassan, of Atlantic City, N.J.  Hassan has been imprisoned since 2016.

Trump has ignored pleas sent to him in January 2019 on behalf of the 55-year-old U.S. citizen Mustafa Qassem, of Long Island, N.Y. Qassem has been in Sisi’s prisons since 2013. Osama Morsi, the son of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, is another American citizen who has been in Sisi’s prisons since 2013.

Unfortunately, Trump and his administration have not only ignored U.S. citizens’ petitions for help abroad but also has ignored requests from U.S. senators and representatives as well. On April 8, 2019, 17 U.S. lawmakers signed and submitted a written letter to Secretary of State Pompeo explaining their serious concerns about the erosion of political and human rights in Egypt. During a public hearing on April 9, 2019, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., reminded everyone that Sisi has been imprisoning hundreds of Americans, despite U.S. aid to Egypt in the amount of $1.3 billion every year.

Yet Sisi is described by President Trump as being a “close friend and a great president” who has been doing a “fantastic job.”

Persecuting people for exercising their right to free speech is not something most people would consider as evidence of a president’s job well done. More likely, they see it as evidence of an ugly and brutal dictatorship. And on the home front, few would consider leaving unjustly jailed Americans abroad with no help as evidence of a president trying to “make America great again.”


Aboulfotouh Kandil
Aboulfotouh Kandil

Aboulfotouh Kandil is a freelance writer on socio-political issues and human rights with a main focus on the Middle East.