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Friday, January 24, 2014

Letter to Obama From American Detained in Egypt

Mohamed Soltan, an American citizen whose Egyptian father belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, was detained in Cairo in August, as our colleague David Kirkpatrick reported last year.

According to his family, Mr. Soltan, a 26-year-old graduate of Ohio State University who moved to Egypt last year, joined a Brotherhood-led sit-in at Rabaa Square in Cairo to defend what he considered the norms of American-style democracy.

Mr. Soltan was shot in the arm on Aug. 14, when security forces broke up sit-ins at Rabaa and another square, killing nearly a thousand people. He was recovering from surgery to remove the bullet when the police raided his home and arrested him. His family, which is collecting signatures on a petition calling for his release, has released the following text of a letter Mr. Soltan wrote to President Obama from a cell in Cairo’s Tora Prison on his 26th birthday in November.

Dear President Obama,

Last week, I underwent a procedure to remove two 13” metal nails that were placed in my left arm to help support and repair the damage sustained from a gunshot wound I suffered at the hands of Egyptian security forces. The bullet that punctured my arm was paid for by our tax dollars. I was forced to undergo this procedure without any anesthesia or sterilization because the Egyptian authorities refused to transfer me to a hospital for proper surgical care.

After the nails penetrated the skin at my elbow from below, and ripped through my shoulder muscle from above. The doctor who performed this procedure is a cellmate. He used pliers and a straight razor in lieu of a scalpel. I laid on a dirty mat as my other cellmates held me down to ensure I did not jolt from the pain and risk permanent loss of feeling and function in that arm. The pain was so excruciating, it felt like my brain could explode at any given point. I was finally given two aspirin pills almost an hour later when the guards found my cellmates screams for help unbearable.

I share these details here because my mind drifted to 2007 as I stared at the ceiling of my cramped cell after surgery. During your first presidential campaign, I was moved by your message. I was so passionate about everything you represented. Finally, “change we can believe in.” I saw you, as many Americans did then, a true civil servant looking to put the disadvantaged first, and to pioneer a new model of governance. I felt I was part of the making of a great chapter in my country’s history. You were someone I wanted to stand behind, someone I wanted to support, so I volunteered and worked for your campaign in Ohio, a crucial swing state. As an O.S.U. student, I went door-to-door, made phone call after phone call, urged people to join the movement that would revolutionize American politics. It was time to go back to a government “for the people, of the people.”

Now as I sit in this crowded cell, I can’t help but ask myself, was I naïve to think you were a departure from the norm? As domestic and foreign policies I disagreed with passed during your terms, I chalked it up to the negative consequence of bipartisanship, but now after months of being held without cause in Egypt’s infamous prisons and so little [regard for] my Americanness, let alone humanity, shown, I am beginning to think I was just another silly, idealistic college kid who believed the world can look a whole lot different, with a leader such as yourself at the head of it.

Your abandonment of me, an American citizen who worked tirelessly towards your election, and a staunch supporter and defender of your presidency, has left a sting in me that is almost as intense as the sharp pain emanating from my recently sliced arm.

Mr. President, all I long for is the opportunity to get together this Thanksgiving with family and friends and enjoy some turkey and pie. I keep dreaming about watching my Buckeyes winning it all this year after beating Michigan. Counting down the clocks on New Years. Watching the Super Bowl in my Tom Brady jersey (hopefully he isn’t a disappointment this past season!) and eating a good ol’ cheeseburger with a side of fries.

Unfortunately, my reality is that I am waking up day after day in a packed underground cell, awaiting the chance to shower, or another laughable interrogation in front of an impartial puppet, just so I can get some sunlight and move my legs in hopes of avoiding another blood clot.

I often get asked sarcastically by judges, officers, and even inmates, “Where is this first world country that takes such pride in defending human rights and freedoms? Where are they now to help you?” Of course, I am left speechless every time. The only sensible, yet unacceptable conclusion that I can come up with is that the U.S. governments protections of political interests is more important and takes precedence over the protections of its citizens’ rights, freedoms, and safety abroad. No American should have to come to that conclusion, and no human should experience the inhumane circumstances me and 15,000 other political prisoners are facing.

For months, every day I woke up thinking: “Today is going to be the day Americanness counts. Today will be the day those promises my president made me will materialize, today will be the day the Egyptian authorities will have no choice but to treat me like a human being. As of today, my 26th birthday, I am no longer that naïve kid who once believed in those promises and hopes that you will come through in my time of desperate need. Unfortunately, where there once was hope and change now stands a dark underground cell. With only hope and trust in God.

Mr. President, I can only ponder on your legacy… that could have been.


Mohamed Soltan
Istikbal Torah, Cairo Egypt
Sector G, Cell #3