For­mer el-Sissi pris­oner sees hope in Trump

Urges ne­go­ti­a­tion to free other Amer­i­cans

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY S.A. MILLER

Mo­hamed Soltan, an Amer­i­can who was im­pris­oned for nearly two years in Egypt, says he is op­ti­mistic that Pres­i­dent Trump will do a bet­ter job than for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in se­cur­ing the re­lease of the other U.S. cit­i­zens de­tained by the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment in Cairo.

Mr. Trump meets Mon­day with Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent Ab­del-Fat­tah el-Sissi, and Mr. Soltan re­coils at the thought of his cap­tor — a mil­i­tary leader with a long record of hu­man rights abuses — get­ting the red car­pet treat­ment at the White House.

But he also views it as an op­por­tu­nity for Mr. Trump to use his ne­go­ti­at­ing skills to win free­dom for the seven or more Amer­i­cans locked up in Egypt, a coun­try the State De­part­ment crit­i­cizes for harsh prison con­di­tions, tor­ture and ar­bi­trary ar­rests and ex­e­cu­tions.

“My mes­sage [to Mr. Trump] is to stay true to form, stay true to your cam­paign mes­sage. If Amer­ica comes first, we should be able to get our

Amer­i­can cit­i­zens out,” Mr. Soltan told The Washington Times.

“Pres­i­dent Obama strug­gled to get one per­son out — me. Now what can we do about the oth­ers?” he said. “Pres­i­dent Trump is ‘The Art of the Deal.’ He is the great ne­go­tia­tor. So he should be able to un­der­stand the kind of lever­age that the United States gov­ern­ment has and de­mand that our cit­i­zens be re­leased.”

Mr. Soltan at­tended a sit-in protest in 2013 in Cairo, where he was shot in the arm by Egyp­tian se­cu­rity forces break­ing up the demon­stra­tion. He later was ar­rested and sen­tenced to life in prison.

His father, Salah Soltan, was a se­nior leader of the Mus­lim Brother­hood, a po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion tar­geted by Mr. el-Sissi as a ter­ror­ist group. The el­der Mr. Soltan also was ar­rested.

The younger Mr. Soltan in­sisted that he was never a mem­ber of the Mus­lim Brother­hood and de­scribed his pres­ence at the protest as that of a cit­i­zen jour­nal­ist, op­pos­ing the mil­i­tary coup but not sup­port­ing de­posed Pres­i­dent Mo­hammed Morsi, who re­mains in prison await­ing a re­trial on spy­ing charges.

The White House said the meet­ing with Mr. el-Sissi would “re­boot” the strong re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two coun­tries and the meet­ings would fo­cus on se­cu­rity and coun­tert­er­ror­ism. Hu­man rights is­sues would be a sub­ject for pri­vate talks.

“Hu­man rights are al­ways an is­sue of con­cern to the United States, and they’re first and fore­most in our dis­cus­sions. Our ap­proach is to han­dle these types of sen­si­tive is­sues in a pri­vate, more dis­creet way,” said a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial.

“We be­lieve it’s the most ef­fec­tive way to ad­vance those is­sues to a fa­vor­able out­come,” the se­nior of­fi­cial said.

Mr. Obama never hosted Mr. el-Sissi at the White House.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, how­ever, re­sumed pay­ing about $1.5 bil­lion in an­nual mil­i­tary aid to the el-Sissi gov­ern­ment in 2015, say­ing it would pro­mote sta­bil­ity and the fight against ter­ror­ism.

The aid was sus­pended for two years after the mil­i­tary coup.

Mr. el-Sissi seized power in 2013 from the demo­crat­i­cally elected Mr. Morsi, a mem­ber of the Mus­lim Brother­hood who came to power fol­low­ing the 2011 Arab Spring up­ris­ings. Shortly after tak­ing of­fice in 2012, Mr. Morsi im­ple­mented pro-Is­lamist re­forms that pro­voked civil protest and the mil­i­tary coup.

Dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Mr. Trump spoke out against the gen­er­ous mil­i­tary aid to Egypt, which is the sec­ond-largest ben­e­fi­ciary of mil­i­tary aid after Is­rael, say­ing the money would be bet­ter spent at home.

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said mil­i­tary aid is ex­pected to con­tinue.

Mr. Trump has been crit­i­cized for em­brac­ing Mr. el-Sissi and de­scribed him as a “fan­tas­tic guy” after they met in Septem­ber.

Mr. Soltan warned that those words res­onate deeply in Egypt. He re­called dur­ing his im­pris­on­ment that Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry de­clared Egypt as on its way to “restor­ing democ­racy.”

“I know the feel­ing that as an Amer­i­can to be in­side and hear the third-high­est rep­re­sen­ta­tion of your gov­ern­ment say that — it was com­pletely dis­ap­point­ing,” said Mr. Soltan. “The ISIS re­cruiters in­side of prison use that, and they used that on me and oth­ers. … They def­i­nitely used that as an ar­gu­ment that, you know, the West is aban­don­ing its own val­ues, its own prin­ci­ples.”

“You can’t re­ally di­vorce the hu­man rights is­sue from the se­cu­rity is­sue,” he said. “You are feed­ing this vi­cious cy­cle of rad­i­cal­iza­tion.”

Oth­ers are press­ing Mr. Trump to bring hu­man rights to the fore­front in deal­ing with Egypt.

A bi­par­ti­san group of five sen­a­tors an­nounced last week a res­o­lu­tion on Amer­ica’s com­mit­ment to a U.S.-Egyp­tian part­ner­ship. The res­o­lu­tion also stressed the need for im­proved hu­man rights in Egypt.

“While our two coun­tries seek a deeper re­la­tion­ship, it’s im­por­tant for Egypt to make progress on hu­man rights, democ­racy and eco­nomic re­forms,” said Sen. Marco Ru­bio, a Florida Repub­li­can who co-spon­sored the res­o­lu­tion.

“I urge Pres­i­dent Trump to press for the re­lease of po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers in Egypt, in­clud­ing jailed Amer­i­cans, and en­cour­age Egypt to al­low greater space for civil so­ci­ety and free­dom of ex­pres­sion for all, and per­mit non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions to op­er­ate freely,” Mr. Ru­bio said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent Ab­del-Fat­tah el-Sissi, who was never a White House guest of Pres­i­dent Obama, is meet­ing on Mon­day with Pres­i­dent Trump.

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