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In Egypt, the regime exchanges citizenship for freedom

Image of an Egyptian passport [Investor Visa/Facebook]
Egyptian passport [Investor Visa/Facebook]

After being forced to give up his Egyptian citizenship, Ramy Shaath has been released by the regime of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. The activist in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement spent two and a half years in pre-trial detention and has now been deported to Jordan.

By forcing Shaath to give up his citizenship as a condition for his release, the regime wanted to depict him as a non-national who thus had no right to speak about Egypt. The regime clearly doesn't understand that national affiliation does not need a paper issued by Sisi's officers to make it valid; nor can it be taken away by tearing up such a document.

Rami Shaath is the son of Nabil Shaath, the former Palestinian foreign minister and current advisor to President Mahmoud Abbas. He was born in 1971 to an Egyptian mother. His father has dual Palestinian-Egyptian citizenship having worked as an advisor to President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Before he abandoned his political career due to his work, Rami Shaath was very active. He worked as an advisor to the then Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in the late nineties.

READ: Egypt releases 3 prominent political prisoners. What about the 65,000 others?

He and his late brother Ali founded TIM, a company specialising in service delivery, management consultancy and management training. It was well-known in the early nineties for organising computer camps for children from various Arab countries.

Shaath returned to politics in the wake of the 25 January, 2011 revolution in Egypt. He helped to found a number of political movements and coalitions, and served as Secretary-General of the Constitution Party before its official establishment. In 2015, he co-founded the Egyptian Popular Campaign to Boycott Israel in Egypt (BDS Egypt), a national coalition launched by a dozen or so political parties, unions, NGOs and public figures to defend Palestinian rights and target the occupation state through the means of peaceful boycotts.

When Donald Trump's "deal of the century" was mooted for the Palestinians — which aimed to liquidate their cause without giving them their legitimate rights — Shaath announced his total rejection of it. He criticised Egypt's participation in the Bahrain workshop in June 2019, which focused on the economic aspect of the proposed deal.

Sisi's Prisons - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Egypt Sisi's Prisons – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

A couple of weeks later, police officers stormed into Ramy Shaath's home in Cairo and arrested him. His French wife, Celine Lebrun, was deported arbitrarily to her country; she was not allowed to contact the French Consulate before leaving.

The arrest was justified under Case No. 930 of 2019 Supreme State Security, known in the media as the "Cell of Hope" case. This saw many civil society activists arrested in Egypt against the backdrop of meetings held to coordinate their participation in the 2020 parliamentary election.

Shaath was alleged to have committed the "crimes" of joining unlawful groups, preventing state institutions and public authorities from carrying out their work, and deliberately disseminating false news, information and statements about the political and economic conditions in Egypt. The authorities put his name on the "terrorist" list, seized his assets and banned him from travelling.

Since his arrest in July 2019, he has been held in detention without trial. Many have tried to mediate for his release, including Palestinian President Abbas and French President Emmanuel Macron, who called on Sisi to release him during the Egyptian leader's visit to Paris in December 2020.

Six months ago, as part of the campaign to polish the regime's image abroad by promising to resolve human rights issues and grant civil and political freedoms, the National Security Agency — the regime's political security apparatus — took over Shaath's file. His case was mediated by the International Dialogue Group, which presents itself as a negotiator with many of the state agencies that have recently released detainees in pre-trial detention to mitigate international criticism directed at the Sisi regime.

The NSA stipulated that Shaath must relinquish his Egyptian citizenship if he wanted to be released. He refused. Negotiations continued for six months until he accepted that this would be the only way that he would get out of prison.

Forcing prisoners with dual nationality to renounce their Egyptian citizenship as a precondition for their release is a common practice of the regime. It is supposed to stigmatise them for lacking patriotism. Instead, it stigmatises the regime for its lack of honour.

READ: Escaping the clutches of the homeland

The Sisi regime believes that patriotism is a card that it can remove from anyone it wants and give to anyone it wants. For example, Egyptian-American Mohamed Soltan, the son of Salah Soltan, a senior official in the Muslim Brotherhood, was arrested in the wake of the 2013 coup and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was only released under American pressure after he renounced his Egyptian citizenship. Did he stop caring about Egypt after his citizenship was taken from him?

Far from it; the opposite happened. Since his release, Soltan has defended human rights in Egypt from his home in the US, where he founded the "Freedom Initiative" to protect human rights in the Arab world. He meets periodically with members of the US Congress to clarify the nature of the rights violations in Egypt.

"After two and a half years, I still have the determination and the intention to continue, whatever happens," insisted Rami Shaath after his release from prison. "I have thousands of friends who I remember, thousands of people I befriended over the two and a half years; I remember them all. So many of them became close friends, many of them hope to be in my place one day and see you all. Each one of them is a human being and not just one of many thousands of Egyptian prisoners."

Shaath and Soltan will remain symbols for those who defend civil and human rights and freedoms in Egypt without the nationality card being used against them. The Sisi regime remains dishonourable when the Egyptian people choose between their nationality and freedom.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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