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Sisi to Trump: US citizens held in Egypt are a 'headache' for us both

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) welcomes Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi before their meeting at the White House in Washington, United States on April 3, 2017 [Presidency of Egypt/Handout/Anadolu Agency]

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has told US President Donald Trump that he is detaining US citizens because they are a "headache" for both of them, the Washington Post revealed yesterday.

When Trump raised the issue of US citizens detained in Egypt during Al-Sisi's visit to the White House in April, the Egyptian president said: "When I let them out, they are a headache, especially that they not only criticise me, but also you."

Writing in the paper, Jackson Diehl highlighted the case of US citizen Moustafa Kassem, who has spent five years in Al-Sisi prisons without trial and last year was added to a mass show trial of 738 people and sentenced to 15 years.

"Kassem is one of dozens of Americans who are being treated as de facto hostages and bargaining chips by regimes around the world, including Iran, Russia and Syria," Diehl wrote. "But the most shocking cases, for me, are those Americans imprisoned by governments that nominally are close American allies."

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He said that Egypt did not provide an acceptable reason for Kassem's detention, who is a 54-year-old from New York.

Kassem happened to be visiting Egypt with his brother-in-law on 14 August 2013, the day when the Egyptian security stormed Cairo's Rabaa Square killing and wounding thousands of protesters and detaining tens of thousands of others.

The two men were detained in a nearby area as they were heading to exchange money from a shopping mall when a military patrol stopped them and asked for their IDs.

"Kassem's brother-in-law, also a US citizen, pulled out his old Egyptian identity card," Diehl wrote, but Kassem "made the fateful decision" to display his blue American passport.

"They allowed my brother-in-law to pass," Kassem wrote last year in a letter to President Trump, according to Diehl. "But I was treated differently. I was an American. The soldiers had a crazed grin on their faces when they stomped on my American passport and accused me of being an American spy."

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Diehl said: "Yet Kassem is one of at least seven US nationals Sisi is holding on political grounds."

There are Reem Mohamed Desouky, a Pennsylvania schoolteacher who was arrested at Cairo airport when she arrived for a family visit in July and was accused of criticising the regime on Facebook, Diehl reported.

He also highlighted the case of Mohamad Amashah, a 23-year-old medical student who was locked up last March after he held up a sign in the capital's Tahrir Square reading "Freedom for all prisoners".

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