Human Rights Watch criticizes the Egyptian regime over jailing businessman Safwan Thabit and his son

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Safwan Thabet and his son, Seif, have been detained for months, Human Rights Watch said, after they refused to hand over their shares in their company, Juhayna, to a state-owned trading company. The rights organization also demanded the authorities to release them immediately.

The security forces had arrested them in December 2020 and February 2021. The Supreme State Security Prosecution imprisoned them on vague charges of financing terrorism, undermining the national economy, and joining a banned group, without providing evidence to support these charges, according to the organization. “The abusive and arbitrary detentions reveal how the government uses flawed terrorism laws to punish successful businessmen who refuse to turn over their property to the state,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

The organization quoted sources it spoke to that Seif is being held in harsh conditions. The wardens would not allow him to leave his cell, which had no proper bathroom, bed, or mattress. They also refuse to provide him with proper clothing even during the winter. The sources reported that the family received a message during the investigation threatening them not to publish any information or speak with journalists, or else they would join Safwan and Seif in prison. In October, authorities sought to bring charges against Safwan’s wife, Bahira El-Shawi, after she posted complaints on social media about the arbitrary detention of her husband and son.

The report revealed that Seif’s arrest came in the wake of a meeting with officials from the National Security and the General Intelligence Service in which he refused to give up his family’s stakes in the company to a sovereign entity that did not offer any compensation in return. The organization’s report indicated that Safwan enjoyed a high position among the top businessmen during the era of former president Hosni Mubarak. Both his maternal grandfather and brother were Muslim Brotherhood leaders, but the family says that Safwan himself was never a member of the group. A minister in the government demanded, a few months before Safwan’s arrest, that the two state-owned food companies Qaha and Edfina, which are experiencing difficulties, take over the management of Juhayna, according to Human Rights Watch.

A senior official also made several visits to the Juhayna factory weeks before Safwan’s arrest to check how it was run. The official told Safwan about his consideration of merging Juhayna’s main factory with Silo Foods, a new military-owned dairy business that president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi opened in August. El-Sisi had instructed the government to develop dairy facilities run by the National Service Projects Organization, perhaps the military’s largest and most opaque business arm. According to Human Rights Watch, the loan programs implemented by the International Monetary Fund with Egypt, which totaled $20 billion between 2016 and 2021, did not bring transparency to the role of military companies in the economy. Nor has the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development been able to reduce the growing political repression or the role of the Egyptian military in the economy, despite it being charged with promoting democracy. Stork emphasized that the International Monetary Fund and other financial institutions should rethink their approach before pumping more dollars into Egypt, adding that the arrest and continued detention of Safwan and Seif demonstrate that efforts to improve governance and transparency have not worked.