While airports are supposed to be safe places through which people travel to new countries, opponents of the Egyptian regime view Cairo Airport as a trap for anyone who criticises General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime. These charges became more urgent after Egyptian activist and researcher Patrick George Zaky, 27, a master’s degree student at the University of Bologna, was arrested by Egyptian authorities on Friday 7 February. Egyptian authorities said that the arrest occurred on the basis of a 2019 arrest warrant, of which the activist was unaware.
Over the past several years, the al-Sisi regime has increasingly arrested political activists, human rights defenders, and journalists at Cairo International Airport. Some were later released without any judicial conviction, after spending two years in prison in pre-trial detention. Zaky is the latest victim, a young man who left Bologna to go home for a holiday. The family have said that he didn’t make it to his family home. He is currently in custody at the prosecutor’s office in his hometown, Mansoura. The news was initially disseminated by Amnesty International and then confirmed on social media by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), whom Patrick works for as a researcher.
Amnesty Italy’s spokesman Riccardo Noury tweeted: “The Egyptian judicial authorities have confirmed the arrest of activist Patrick George, student of the Gemma Master in Bologna. He disappeared for a few hours upon arrival in Cairo, he is now under arrest in the hometown of Mansoura.” Noury said he is at “risk of prolonged detention and torture.” According to Egyptian activists, Zaky, who was the manager of Khaled Ali’s presidential campaign, one of the opponents of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, was stopped at Cairo Airport, just after he landed. After a long interrogation, he was brought before a judge on February 8 in his hometown of Mansoura.
An online petition with almost 10,000 signatories is putting pressure on the Egyptian government to free Zaky. Amnesty said that “Patrick George Zaky was kidnapped by the Egyptian state security forces upon arrival at Cairo Airport to spend the holidays in the country.” Patrick was “forcibly disappeared for 24 hours” then “reappeared” with the Egyptian authorities, who “say they arrested him in Mansoura, his hometown.” “The Egyptian security forces are the same ones involved in the murder of the Italian
researcher Giulio Regeni in Cairo in 2016.” On May 22, 2018, an Egyptian military court sentenced journalist and researcher Ismail Alexandrani to 10 years in prison after he was arrested at the airport.
Human rights organisations expressed deep concern over the unjust sentencing of Alexandrani, winner of the World Youth Movement for Democracy’s International Essay Contest on Youth and Democracy. Alexandrani is a well-known expert on Sinai affairs and Islamic movements in Egypt. Alexandrani was arrested on November 29, 2015, and faces charges of obtaining and publishing military secrets, joining a banned organisation, and publishing false news abroad. After nearly two years in pre-trial detention, his case was referred by the Supreme State Security Prosecution to a military court. Following his arrest, more than 70 researchers from around the world issued a joint statement calling for his release, which noted: “Alexandrani is one of Egypt’s brightest young researchers, who has spent the last few years doing ground-breaking work on the marginalised areas of Egypt.. [his] arrest is a repression of free speech and should be condemned.”
Yousry Mustafa, an Egyptian journalist, was also arrested at Cairo Airport while travelling to perform Umrah in April 2019. Mustafa was forcibly disappeared for nearly two months, and later appeared at the Supreme State Security Prosecution, accused of spreading false news and of joining a terrorist group. He is still in pre-trial detention, waiting to know his fate. Lawyers confirm that Egyptian airports no longer provide security for opponents and journalists, and have become a trap where activists disappear, may be subjected to torture, and then appear in front of the prosecution.