Egypt under pressure to locate missing activist Mostafa al-Naggar
Pressure is growing on the Egyptian authorities to investigate the disappearance of Mostafa al-Naggar and help find him, as friends and supporters of the ex-parliamentarian and activist have mounted an online campaign.
Naggar, who was last heard from in September, was due in court the following month to appeal a conviction for "insulting the judiciary".
However, Naggar has now been absent for three months, with his friend Islam Lotfy telling Middle East Eye earlier this month that he fears Naggar may have been shot dead by border guards while trying to leave the country.
An Egyptian entrepreneur and longtime friend of Naggar, Lofty told MEE that the former MP had been planning to leave Egypt through its southern border with Sudan with the help of smugglers in September.
Three different accounts
In a Facebook post last week, Lotfy said he had been told three different accounts about what happened to Naggar: he was arrested, he fled, or he was killed on the border.
However, Lofty ruled out the possibility that his friend was arrested.
“Had they arrested him, it would have been a golden opportunity to smear him and the January [revolution] camp. They would have referred him to a military tribunal for sneaking into a military zone or at least implemented the three-year prison sentence against him,” he said.
Naggar was sentenced to three years in prison in December last year, and he had been expected to go to court to appeal that sentence on 15 October.
It is heartbreaking. Why are we in a situation where a prominent dentist, a talented writer and a former MP has vanished?
- Amr Al-Shobaky, friend
Naggar was an icon of the 2011 revolution and one of the key organisers of the Tahrir Square protests that led to the overthrow of longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak.
Following the revolution, he was a founding member of the secular al-Adl party and was the only member of the party to win a seat in parliament.
He had denied the accusation against him, calling it politically motivated.
Lofty said the account that Naggar went into hiding - the Egyptian government's line is that he "willingly disappeared" - is also unlikely because Naggar had already been in hiding for nearly a year and there would be no reason for him to attract publicity at this time.
Instead, Lofty said the most likely story is that Naggar was shot at the border, adding that the burden of proof lies with the Egyptian authorities to make clear what happened.
“We are left with the last possibility, that we hope is not true, but it can’t be verified or denied without transparency from the state,” he said.
MEE has been unable to independently verify the details of the accounts of Naggar's disappearance.
Egyptian officials did not respond to requests for comment on speculation that the activist may have been killed.
Calls for investigation
Speaking to MEE earlier this month, Lotfy said that he heard an account from purported witnesses who said Naggar might have been killed by Egyptian border guards.
Previous reports had suggested that he had been arrested while on a sightseeing trip to Aswan.
Lotfy called on the Egyptian government to launch an official investigation into Naggar’s disappearance and to solicit eyewitness accounts from places he was last seen.
Prominent Egyptian politician Mohamed ElBaradei also called for action from the Egyptian state on Twitter.
Translation: "A strong state... is one that identifies the whereabouts of its "disappeared" citizens and reassures their families."
Other Egyptians also shared their concerns on social media about Naggar's disappearance.
Translation: “The state that has refused to investigate reports on the disappearance of Mostafa al-Naggar and has even refused to trace his phone since his disappearance in September is responsible for his safety and life.” Rasha Azab, an Egyptian journalist and activist.
Naggar's lawyer Negad El-Borai said in a statement on Thursday that the Egyptian government has confirmed that no clashes took place on the country's southern borders at the time of Naggar's dissapearance.
Naggar's friend Amr Al-Shobaky said MEE’s report that he may have been killed is “worrying”, though he stressed that it remains unconfirmed.
In a column for Egyptian news outlet Almasry Alyoum, al-Shobaky said the director of Egypt's State Information Service (SIS), Dia Rashwan, told him that Naggar was not shot dead, but that he went into hiding to escape a three-year prison sentence for insulting the judiciary.
“It is heartbreaking. Why are we in a situation where a prominent dentist, a talented writer and a former MP has vanished?” al-Shobaky wrote in the column.
While saying he has "great trust" in Rashwan's account that Naggar is not detained by the Egyptian security forces, he said the state has a "fundamental" responsiblity to search for him as a "missing person".
Naggar, a dentist and prominent human rights activist who served in his country's first democratically elected parliament after the 2011 revolution, was last seen on 28 September, his wife Shaimaa told MEE in late October.
She said he told her in their last phone call that he was in the southern city of Aswan and would return before his court hearing in October. She also said he did not tell her that he intended to leave the country prior to his scheduled court appearance.
In an interview with London-based Al-Araby channel, she said the family is in a "difficult situation", with their three children having nightmares about their dad's fate.
Shaimaa said she hides the news about Naggar from their youngest son.
She pleaded with the government to reveal any information it may have about Naggar. "If he's with you," Shaimaa said addressing the authorities, "let us see him and make sure he's safe. If he's got a [legal] case... We accept that. What's important is that we see him alive in front of us."
Following his failure to appear in court on 15 October for his appeal hearing, Naggar’s lawyer, Negad El-Borai, said he believed he had been detained at a military detention facility in Aswan.
But days later, Egyptian officials officially denied arresting him.
In a statement dated 18 October, the SIS said it “categorically denies” that Naggar was arrested or that he was forcibly disappeared. It added that he “willingly escaped” from the court hearing scheduled in October.