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Egypt's spy chief claims US agreed to jail prominent activist: Report

Abbas Kamel claims that Washington signed a document agreeing to have Egyptian-American Mohamed Soltan serve his life sentence in US
Soltan was arrested shortly after the protests at Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya square in July 2013, and spent nearly two years in prison.
Soltan was arrested shortly after the protests at Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya square in July 2013 and spent nearly two years in prison (MEE/File photo)
By MEE staff in Washington

Egypt's intelligence director has claimed the US agreed to imprison Egyptian-American activist Mohamed Soltan after he was released from prison in Egypt in 2015, Politico reported.

In a visit to Washington last month, Abbas Kamel asked lawmakers why Soltan was "free and living in Virginia" when the US had promised Egypt that he would serve the remainder of his life sentence in a US prison.

Kamel gave congressional staffers a document appearing to be a signed agreement between Egyptian and American officials laying out such an arrangement.

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The document, written in Arabic, appears to have been signed by an American embassy representative and a representative of "Interpol Cairo".

It states that Soltan is to be sent to "his home country to resume his sentence under the oversight of the appropriate authorities".

Soltan, an Ohio State University economics graduate, mediated between foreign media and protest leaders at Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya square in July 2013.

He was arrested shortly after the protests were violently stamped out and spent nearly two years in prison, 490 days of which he was on hunger strike. He told MEE in a previous interview that he lost a third of his body weight and nearly died 10 times.

His hunger strike gained worldwide attention, adding pressure on the US government to secure his release.

He was ultimately released from an Egyptian prison in May 2015, stripped of his Egyptian citizenship and sent to the US.

Earlier this year, several members of Soltan's family were arrested in Egypt, in apparent retaliation for his advocacy work.

US aid to Egypt

Politico reported that it appeared one of the persons' names in the document was Nolen Johnson, who was a US diplomat based in Egypt at the time of Soltan's release.

In his Linkedin profile, Johnson states that he "received a group Superior Honor Award for my part in securing the release and repatriation of a high-profile Egyptian-American detainee".

One person familiar with the issue told Politico the State Department has seen the document and that officials told the person that one of the department's employees signed the letter when it was pushed on them at the last minute in the airport in Egypt. The person told the newspaper that the document was not legally enforceable.

The State Department said it did not have a comment on the letter, and the Egyptian embassy in Washington did not respond to Middle East Eye's request for comment by the time of publication.

'In reality, there should be zero US dollars and zero cents going to Egypt’s brutal dictatorship'

- Sarah Leah Whitson, Democracy for the Arab World Now

The revelation of the letter comes as progressive members of Congress and rights groups are calling on US President Joe Biden to withhold part of the aid money that is sent to Cairo each year.

Congress has been imposing human rights conditions on $300m of the $1.3bn military aid to Egypt, but previous administrations have issued national security waivers to bypass the restrictions.

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), said that conditioning this aid is the "least" that the Biden administration can do.

"In reality, there should be zero US dollars and zero cents going to Egypt’s brutal dictatorship," she tweeted on Monday.

It is a "fictional notion that aid secures US interests" and there are "bloated and diseased claims that [the] US has 1.5b worth of interests there".

Biden had previously promised "no more blank checks" for Sisi's government. However, his administration was criticised earlier this year for approving a $200m arms sale to Egypt around the same time it was reported that the Egyptian government arrested Soltan's relatives.

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