Egypt abandons 10 political detainees in Saudi Arabia

After the Egyptian government’s failure for a year and a half to act on the 10 detained Egyptians in Saudi Arabia, a human rights lawyer filed a lawsuit before the Administrative Court to demand that the Ministry of Immigration and Egyptians Affairs Abroad provide care and attention to the accused, find out what charges have been brought against them, and enable their defence team to obtain an exact copy of their charges.

Thus, the government has little interest in Egyptians abroad, even though they supported the economy and protected it from the specter of bankruptcy over the past decade through remittances that exceeded $223 billion. Thus, the Egyptians find themselves humiliated in exile after their government’s failure to defend them.

The origins of the case

The origins of the case date back to October 25, 2019, a festive morning organised by a group of Nubian associations in Saudi Arabia to commemorate the Nuba heroes of the October 1973 war. Pictures were prepared of the most prominent Nubian Egyptians who participated in the war, the highest of whom was Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi.

The security forces arrested 10 organisers of the celebration, and the investigation focused on “not placing the image of the current President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi among the photos uploaded during the celebration.” The arrested explained that the pictures are only of Nubians who participated in the war as a kind of celebration, and that there was no political reason that President Sisi’s picture was not there. After detainees spent two months in Al-Ha’ir prison in Riyadh, the Saudi authorities released them but prevented them from travelling. Then, suddenly in July 2020, the General Directorate of Investigation, which is affiliated with the Presidency of State Security in Saudi Arabia, arrested the 10 Egyptians again, and they have been imprisoned since that moment.

According to human rights organisations that followed the case, the arrested were detained without investigation and were denied access to a lawyer or for their families to visit and instead just made a weekly phone call. Four months after their arrest, they were transferred from Al-Ha’ir Prison in Riyadh to Asir Prison in the Saudi city of Abha. After a year and three months of arrest, specifically in November 2021, the trial of the 10 Egyptians before the Specialised Criminal Court began on charges of “supporting a banned political group (the Muslim Brotherhood), spreading false and malicious rumours on social media, especially Facebook, and violating the law by establishing an unlicenced association.”

It is noteworthy that the Specialiced Criminal Court is a court established in 2008 to try people accused of crimes related to terrorism, and since 2011 the Saudi authorities have systematically used it to prosecute people on vague charges that often equate to peaceful political activities with terrorism-related crimes, according to Amnesty International. During the second trial session, which was held on January 24, the court refused to record the defendants’ lawyer’s claim that their confessions were extracted under duress. The judge did not allow the families of the 10 defendants to attend the trial session, even though several them authorised members of their families to represent them during the trial.

The Egyptian government shirks responsibility

Days after the arrest of the 10 Egyptians in October 2019, the Egyptian Consulate General in Riyadh issued a shameful statement in which it disavowed its responsibility for the arrested and for the association, arguing that “the rules and regulations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia prohibit the establishment of associations or entities for the communities of countries residing in its lands or the establishment of any activities.”

The consulate refused to intervene in any way in the case, as it is a “security” issue and not a “criminal” issue. This is even though the goal of these Nubian associations (which have been operating in Saudi Arabia for many years) is solidarity and interdependence between Nubians abroad, and they do not aim for any political or partisan activity, like many similar associations and entities that have been operating in Saudi Arabia for years.

The families of the 10 detainees confirmed that they contacted Egyptian government officials, including the Minister of Immigration and the Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs, who confirmed their knowledge of the matter, but they did nothing. The people also submitted complaints to the Council of Ministers, to no avail.

The son of one of the 10 detainees said, in a press statement, that “they resorted to the embassy from the beginning and were positive, given that most of the arrested were friends of the embassy staff for decades. But even the humanitarian aspect was ignored by the officials there. With the beginning of the crisis, the embassy repudiated the 10 citizens, in an official statement, on the grounds that they violated the law, although it does not excuse it from pursuing the case, and then when we inquired about the trial, the embassy completely denied the existence of any trial, despite the initiation of it.”

The man was surprised by the behaviour of the Egyptian embassy, ​​as Adel Fakir, the head of the Nubian family and one of those arrested, had been invited by the embassy two months before his arrest as head of the Nubian family in Riyadh, on the celebration of the July 1952 revolution, which is a clear recognition of the family’s activity. The embassy later denied its work during the crisis of the case. In the face of all this, the detainees and their families had no choice but to file a lawsuit before the Egyptian courts to compel the government to act and defend the wasted rights and dignity of its citizens.