By Soroor Ahmed (NVONews.Com)
His arrest sparked off a row last April forcing Saudi Arabia withdraw its ambassador from Cairo. Muslim Brotherhood took strong exception to the Saudi action and there were protest marches too against the monarchy in Egypt.
Ahmed El-Gizawi is a lawyer and human rights activist, who went to Saudi Arabia to perform Umra. But now he is languishing in jail. His trial in Saudi Arabia has been adjourned until September. Last Ramadan, he sent a letter to his family telling them about the torture he faces.
He is not the only one. Dozens of Egyptians are serving jail terms all over Saudi Arabia. Many of them, even women, have been publicly flogged for no rhyme or reason. The whereabouts of some of them are even not known.
On Monday a Press conference was organised in Cairo by the Association of Families of Egyptians Detained in Saudi Arabia. The Association was founded almost one year ago by the families of some 36 Egyptian nationals detained without trial in the oil-rich kingdom.
Take El-Gizawi’s example. He was initially accused of “insulting Saudi Arabia’s royal family,” but the charge was later changed to that of smuggling drugs into the kingdom.
His wife, Shahenda Fathi, said “What’s happening to Egyptians in Saudi Arabia is nothing new, be in the detentions or the unjust kafeel (or sponsorship) system.” She said that since her husband had been concerned with the issue of Egyptians jailed without charge in Saudi Arabia he was arrested when he went there for Umra.
The Saudi monarchy has often been criticised for its kafeel system, by which foreign nationals are only granted jobs if they are formally sponsored by Saudi citizens.
Seham Mohamed’s husband, Hamada Metwali, was arrested in 2007. “My husband was detained because he was suspected of knowing certain Saudis wanted by the Saudi authorities,” she said Seham. He had been slapped with a two-year jail sentence but had already served six years and is yet to be released.
Metwali had originally travelled to Saudi Arabia, leaving his pregnant wife in Egypt, to work as an air-control officer. “He has never seen his son and his health is deteriorating,” Seham said.
She was quoted in Ahram Online as saying that she had tried to contact Egypt’s foreign ministry and the Saudi ambassador to Egypt, but that “no one responded.”
The founder of the Association, Ashmawi Youssef, was quoted on the same website as saying that the number of Egyptian nationals languishing in Saudi prisons stood at around 108 one year ago, but that the number had since fallen to around 30.
He said six months ago the Association met the then Foreign Affairs Minister Mohamed Amr, who put them in contact with his aide who in turn sent a letter promising that the ministry would continue its efforts to help the Association. But they are apparently still awaiting support from higher state authorities.”
Youssef demanded a clear article in Egypt’s constitution, currently in the process of being drafted, “to explicitly safeguard the rights of Egyptians abroad” so as to prevent similar incidents in the future.
But it is not only men who are languishing in jails. The women-folk has their own quota of horrible stories to narrate.
Said Yehia Wafa “My daughter faced severe injustice in Saudi Arabia. She was flogged for no reason except that she tried to demand her rights.”
Her daughter, Naglaa Wafa, is an Egyptian businesswoman who was sentenced to five years in prison and 500 lashes by the Saudi authorities following a quarrel between her and a daughter of the Saudi monarch.
Yehia described the verdict imposed on his daughter as “invalid,” saying that his family had been “living in hell for three years” as a result of Naglaa’s ongoing detention.
Naglaa’s son, Sherif, who said his mother had declared a hunger strike two days ago to protest her imprisonment. He went on to point out that an Egyptian delegation was scheduled to soon travel to Saudi to see his mother and check up on her condition.
“My mother must be released with dignity; she’s entitled to this, especially given that she’s in an Arab-Muslim country,” said Sherif, who has not seen his mother since the day she was arrested three years ago.
Sherif added that the family was currently in contact with newly-appointed Egyptian Vice-President Mahmoud Mekki, who had promised to bring up the issue with Saudi ambassador to Egypt.
According to Mostafa El-Baradei’s mother her 24-year-old son travelled to Saudi Arabia in 2009 to seek work but ended up in a Saudi prison only a few months later. El-Baradei has now been detained without charge by the Saudi authorities for two years and three months.
“Every week I travel from Gharbiya to Cairo. We’ve staged protests, held conferences. I even contacted the Saudi ambassador, but nothing came of it; no one stood by our side,” El-Baradei’s mother rued.
She narrated how her son was gradually going blind due to alleged torture by his Saudi captors. She went on to urge Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, for whom she voted, to work on bringing her son home.
The distraught mother added: “I ask the king of Saudi Arabia to give me my son back. I promise him we will never step foot in his country––we don’t even want to visit for pilgrimage; we don’t care anymore.”
Ahram reported that on August 15 last Saudi officials stated that 82 Egyptians jailed in the kingdom would be granted amnesties by Saudi King Abdullah. The names of those to be pardoned, however, were not revealed.
This followed President Morsi’s visit to Saudi Arabia.
But then Egypt is not the only country whose nationals are languishing in Saudi jails. There are innumerable others.