US legislators call on release of Egyptian prisoners


Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi

On Monday, a group of 55 U.S. lawmakers called on Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi to release a group of prisoners of conscience—those jailed because of their race, sexuality, political views or religious beliefs. U.S. legislators did not approve of these imprisonments, and considered them a humanitarian issue.

Sen. Bernie Sanders agreed with these legislators, demanding that el-Sisi release imprisoned lawyers, activists and journalists. The recent outbreak of COVID-19 poses a risk to the health of those held in prison.

The message sent to el-Sisi was written by Democratic lawmakers Ro Khanna, Jim McGorven and Sherrod Brown. 

According to Daily Sabah, the legislators wanted el-Sisi to know that “hostage-taking is illegal and unacceptable under any circumstances.” They further warned him that his actions “…undermines our countries’ mutual interests and values.” 

The prisoners requested to be released included political activists Ramy Shaath, Alaa Abdel Fattah, his sister Sanaa Seif and Zyad el-Elaimy; human rights lawyers Mohamed el Baqer and Mahienour el-Massry; and journalists Esraa Abdel Fattah and Solafa Magdy.

According to the Daily Sabah, el-Sisi has issued many death sentences against his political enemies. President Trump even jokingly referred to el-Sisi as “my favorite dictator” in 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In the last month, fifteen of el-Sisi’s political dissidents were executed amid anti-government protests. According to the Daily Sabah, many criticisms have been hurled at the Egyptian government for “…violations of human rights, silencing dissidents and putting thousands in prison since 2013…”  Executions in Egypt have been on the rise since 2013.

Putting the issue into context and understanding the area in which it took place gives us more of an understanding on why this is happening. Egypt’s leadership is not as accepting as the U.S. and human rights tend to fall second to the protection of the country.

My best friend, Youssef Zaki, who was born and raised in Egypt, gave his take on these imprisonments.

”Even though the climate of the prison system is bad and COVID-19 is causing ill- prepared living conditions, the prisoners at hand are terrorists, according to Amnesty International’s ‘Egypt: Eight men put to death in mass execution’, and have been proven to be part of the 2012-13 Egyptian Revolution against the country of Egypt itself,” Zaki said. “Many of the people who have been executed by el-Sisi’s government have been involved in terrorist attacks against the nation, and thus were executed in an attempt to prevent radical ideals and stabilize the country.” 

“I stand behind el-Sisi’s attempts to protect the nation,” he added. “However, I understand that people would view him as just another ruthless dictator, but then again, those people don’t understand that the government of Egypt functions much differently and radicals are dealt with more severely.”

As the situation continues, the US demands that el-Sisi release the prisoners who they claim to be wrongfully imprisoned. There are several different ways to look at this situation. To some, it’s another dictator keeping people’s voices from being heard and risking their lives in a pandemic-ridden prison. Others, like Youssef Zaki, would say that those put behind bars were radical terrorists who earned their spots through their extreme and unruly actions. 

It’s a divisive topic, because not everyone views the situation in the same light. Hearing from a source who was close to Egypt shed some light on just how differently those who live in Egypt view their dictator.