Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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What the Jailing of Ismail Alexandrani Tells Us About Egypt

by Elliott Abrams
December 3, 2015


Ismail Alexandrani is an Egyptian journalist who was detained when he returned to Egypt recently, and that detention has now been extended for at least another 15 days.

His treatment by the government of President Sisi tells us a good deal about today’s Egypt.

Alexandrani spent the first half of this year at the Wilson Center in Washington. In 2012-2013, he held a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellowship at the National Endowment for Democracy, also in Washington.

He’s an investigative journalist and has written about the failures of Egypt’s anti-ISIS efforts especially in Sinai. And that must be why he has been jailed. The stated reasons are to investigate allegations that he had spread “false news and rumors” and belonged to a “terrorist” group. In plain English, journalists in Egypt are not permitted to criticize the government and especially the Army. To do so, as Alexandrani did, is to court prison time.

With enough international pressure, it can hoped that he’ll be released. The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement saying “Ismail Alexandrani’s arrest is the latest attempt by the Egyptian government to silence critical reporting through force and intimidation. We call on authorities to release Alexandrani immediately and drop all charges against him.” Amnesty International‘s statement said “he has been detained for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.” Below is the statement from the Wilson Center.

This week, Egypt detained Ismail Alexandrani, an Egyptian researcher, investigative journalist, and former Wilson Center Fellow. The Wilson Center is deeply concerned by his arrest, and we have reached out to senior U.S. officials for more information. Although we do not know yet what the charges against Mr. Alexandrani are, we strongly urge the government of Egypt to deal with his case in full accordance with the country’s constitution that guarantees Egyptian citizens freedom of speech and the media.

The Wilson Center was chartered by Congress to bridge the worlds of scholarship and policy; each year, we host individuals from around the world to pursue independent research. Mr. Alexandrani held an appointment as a Visiting Arab Journalist here from February through July 2015, studying Egyptian-American cooperation in the Sinai Peninsula. He made valuable contributions to our community – an environment dedicated to free inquiry and open dialogue.

In that spirit, we ask Egypt to demonstrate its respect for freedom of expression, and assure the international community of its commitment to basic human rights.

One has to hope that at least in private U.S. officials are explaining to Egyptian officials the stupidity of arresting Alexandrani and the need to let him go. In fact the United States has a great interest in Egypt’s counter-terrorism programs, and we want them to succeed. We must not support actions that are crude efforts to stop criticism of the security forces, and that seek to prevent any debate about whether Egypt’s government is effectively stopping terror or is in fact feeding it through vast repression.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Lon W.

    Magnanimity is a good thing. Does President Al-Sisi know that it is fallacy that elephants are afraid of mice.

  • Posted by D'Allessandro

    Egypt whether in the Mubarak era or now with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has received and still does about 2 billion dollars a year not only in military aid but also to promote democracy, agricultural and training programs, etc. This largesse should guarantee the US to have a certain degree of influence within the Egyptian government but as of late it seems that Sisi is taking this cooperation for granted. Whether it is because he is focusing his energies on quelling the Sinai insurgency, the fact that the Gulf States are also assisting him financially, the ISIS threat, the financial dilemma he inherited or because he mistrusts the current American administration due to their recent ill advised flirtation with the Muslim Brotherhood is anybody’s guess but whatever the reason America should not allow for the arbitrary arrests of Ismail Alexandrani, Mahmoud Abou Zeid, Hossam Bahgat and other journalists, photographers and bloggers to take place. Tactfully, diplomatic pressure should be exerted and if it doesn’t budge Sisi’s resolve then the flow of subventions and loans should enter the equation.

    With the Middle East sitting on a tinderbox, the US or Israel cannot afford for Egypt to become a failed state but to continue permitting high-handed tactics against reporters or government dissidents is asking for exactly that result. It is imperative for the Obama administration to persuade President Sisi to reform his authoritarian ways. If the status quo continues the political damage will be irreparable not only to the land of the Pharaohs but also to the region at large in the years to come.

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