Tag Archives: Marc Sievers

US Embassy Cairo FSN Ahmed Alaiba Detained Since 1/25–State Dept Still Seeking “Clarity”

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– Domani Spero

Cairo Post reported on February 11 that Egyptian National Security arrested a local employee on Jan. 25 who works for the U.S. embassy in Cairo.  On February 12, NYT’s David Kirkpatrick has additional details:

Security forces have detained an Egyptian employee of the United States Embassy who worked as a liaison to the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian news reports said Wednesday, stirring fears of pressure on Western diplomats who communicate with the Islamist opposition.

Embassy officials said the employee, Ahmed Alaiba, was detained on Jan. 25, the third anniversary of the Arab Spring uprising here, and he has been held without charges since then.
[...]
An Egyptian government official briefed on the case said Mr. Alaiba was under investigation for both participating in an illegal demonstration and “communicating with an outlawed group.”
[...]
Mr. Alaiba, an Egyptian citizen, has no diplomatic immunities. But some Western diplomats said that the leaks to the Egyptian news media about his arrest appeared to convey a message to them as well. Many diplomats were already wrestling with fears of possible retribution from the military-backed government if they continued meeting with Brotherhood officials as they did before the takeover.

Questions about Mr. Alaiba’s arrest made it to the State Department’s Daily Press Briefing with Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf. This FSN has been detained since January 25. Besides repeating what has already been reported in the news media, Ms. Harf could only promise to “see if we have more clarity on this.” Eighteen days after the embassy employee was detained, Ms. Harf could not even say what was this employee’s job at the embassy?!

Typically, the local employees who do work overseas like Mr. Alaiba’s are political assistants or political specialists. These are fairly common jobs in diplomatic missions.  We do want to know what the former DCM, now  Chargé d’Affaires Markc Sievers is doing about the detention of a member of his embassy’s staff?  Yes, he’s Egyptian, and a local employee, and he’s one of ours.  If uncorrected, this could become a dangerous precedent. Anyone who works for the U.S. government in Egypt who talks to MB officials or supporters or other opposition figures could just be thrown into jail without charges or some spurious ones.

In some dark corners of the net, the conspiracy theorists are already busy. This is apparently proof of President Obama’s secret support for the Muslim Brotherhood.  Which just shows how little people know about what our official representatives do overseas.  Our diplomats and local employees talk to host country governments and opposition parties/figures around the globe.  What they learn help inform the decisions that our government makes.  This happens whether there’s a Democrat or a Republican in the White House. Some of the folks our officials talk to are not very nice, some are corrupt, some would not even think twice about stabbing us in the back. But that’s the world we lived in.  To expect that our government officials should only talk to the government in power is idiotic, that gives us only half the story. It also makes it impossible for our people to do substantial work when the levers of power change hands.  So, do think about that when you hear about these nutty stuff.

Now, can we please have somebody at the podium who wears a hat or sash that says, “Clarity is my name” whether it snows or not?

Excerpt below from the greatest mid-day show in town:

QUESTION: I wanted to start by asking about the Embassy employee in Cairo who was arrested for his liaison with the Muslim Brotherhood. First off, what is the reaction of the State Department? What’s being done, I assume, to have him released, if he hasn’t been released already? And then if you could talk a little more broadly about whether or not the State Department or the Administration believes that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization, and what this says about dealing with a government in Cairo that is refusing to recognize such a significant part of the population in Egypt.

MS. HARF: Absolutely. So we can confirm that a locally employed staff member of the U.S. Embassy was detained on January 25th and that, as far as we understand, he has been held without charges since then. We have been in touch with the Government of Egypt and have requested additional information about his case. The locally employed staff member was detained, I think, over a weekend on January 25th while off-duty, as I think maybe you mentioned.

The United States does not – has not designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. We have been very clear in Egypt that we will work with all sides and all parties to help move an inclusive process forward. We’ve also repeatedly, both publicly and privately, called on the interim government to move forward in an inclusive manner. That means talking to all parties, bringing them into the process. We’re not saying what the future government should look like specifically other than that it should be inclusive. That, of course, includes the Muslim Brotherhood. We will continue talking to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as part of our broad outreach to the different parties and groups there.

QUESTION: So if he was arrested or detained anyways off-duty, is it your understanding he was – he is being detained because of his liaison with the Muslim Brotherhood, or was there another reason to your understanding?

MS. HARF: Let me see if we have more clarity on this. I’m not sure we have entire clarity about the reasons for his continued detention. Let me check with our folks and see. Again, I’m not sure if we know exactly why he’s being detained.

QUESTION: Because otherwise, I mean I’m sure other employees at the Embassy are – would be reluctant to liaise with the Muslim Brotherhood or any opposition groups that the current government in Cairo seems to not look upon favorably. And –

MS. HARF: Let me see – oh, sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. No, and so I just wonder, as you say, how the Obama Administration and the State Department is going to continue reaching out to the Muslim Brotherhood. How will they do that if employees are being arrested and there’s certain penalties that people have to face in doing so.

MS. HARF: Well – yeah. No, it’s – to be clear, I’m not saying that that was the reason for his detention. I would need to confirm that with folks.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I actually haven’t heard that, so let me check and see that.

Again, he was a locally employed staff member. Our folks that are on the ground there have been talking to the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups as well. So let me see two things if I can get a little more clarity about the reason for his detention and also what his job was at the Embassy. I just don’t have all that clarity.

QUESTION: Okay. So would an American official at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo be able to liaise with the Muslim Brotherhood? I assume they have been.

MS. HARF: Well, they certainly have been. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: And again, I’m not sure that was the reason for his detention. So before we sort of take this – I’m happy to check and see if we just have some more clarity on that.

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US Mission Egypt Now on Authorized Departure But July 4th Celebration Still On

— By Domani Spero

On June 28, the State Department announced the authorized departure of “a limited number” of non-emergency USG personnel and family members from Egypt due to the ongoing unrest.  Since we’re now in the summer season and school is out, hopefully a good number of family members have already left the country. The Travel Alert dated May 15, 2013 has now been replaced with a Travel Warning that U.S. citizens defer travel to Egypt at this time.

The embassy had previously announced that it will be closed to the public on Sunday, June 30 and later announced closure also for Monday, July 1.  (See US Embassy Cairo: To Close on June 30, Be Prepared to Shelter in Place).  But as of today, we understand that the Embassy Front Office has yet to cancel post’s July 4th celebration for next week.

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens traveling to or living in Egypt to defer non-essential travel to Egypt at this time due to the continuing possibility of political and social unrest.  On June 28, 2013, the Department of State authorized the departure of a limited number of non-emergency employees and family members.  U.S. citizens are urged to remain alert to local security developments and to be vigilant regarding their personal security. This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Alert issued for Egypt dated May 15, 2013.

On June 28, the Department of State authorized the departure of a limited number of non-emergency U.S. government personnel and family members from Egypt due to the ongoing political and social unrest.

Political unrest, which intensified prior to the constitutional referendum in December 2012 and the anniversary in 2013 of Egypt’s 25th January Revolution, is likely to continue in the near future due to unrest focused on the first anniversary of the President’s assumption of office.  Demonstrations have, on occasion, degenerated into violent clashes between police and protesters, resulting in deaths, injuries, and extensive property damage. Participants have thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails and security forces have used tear gas and other crowd control measures against demonstrators. There are numerous reports of the use of firearms as well. While violent protests have occurred in major metropolitan areas, including downtown Cairo, Alexandria, and Port Said, the security situation in most tourist centers, including Luxor, Aswan, and Red Sea resorts such as Sharm el Sheikh, continues to be calm. Of specific concern is a rise in gender-based violence in and around protest areas where women have been the specific targets of sexual assault.

Read the June 28 Travel Warning here.

In related news,  Ahram Online is reporting that a 21-year old American has become a second casualty amidst clashes in Alexandria.  The report citing  Amin Ezz El-Din, head of Alexandria’s security directorate said that the young American had been taking pictures with his mobile phone near one of the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which President Morsi hails, when he was stabbed to death.  Neither the US Embassy Cairo or USCG Alexandria has confirmed the death. Then there’s this side story from McClatchy Newspapers’ Middle East Bureau chief:

Screen Shot 2013-06-28

Update @ 10:04 pm PST:  The American killed in Alexandria has been identified by Kenyon College as Andrew Pochter.  Pochter, 21, of Chevy Chase, Md., died during clashes between opponents and supporters of President Mohamed Morsi.  He was an intern at AMIDEAST, an American non-profit organization engaged in international education, training and development activities in the Middle East and North Africa.  There is troubling report that the victim was asked if he was an American prior to stabbing. If true, this would be the second incident in a few weeks that appears directed at U.S. citizens.  Until May 9th this year, security advisories from the embassy were still saying that “in general, anti-American sentiment is not directed at individual U.S. citizens in Egypt.”

The ongoing protests leading up to the mega-protest organized for June 30 while directed at President Morsi and his party are taking on an increasingly anti-American tenor.

The Tamarod (Rebel) Campaign collecting signatures for an early presidential election has listed its reasons online including one why it rejects its sitting president: “We reject you… Because Egypt is still following the footsteps of the USA.” More about the Tamarod campaign here.

The protesters are saying it with banners, too; all posted on Twitter and cc’ed to @USEmbassyCairo.  The banners are made with specific messages; as well, there are photos circulating of the U.S. ambassador’s photos spray painted with red X marks.  That looks like a lot of anger just waiting to burst …

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Meanwhile, CNN’s Barbara Starr said that U.S. Marines stationed in southern Europe have been put on alert as a precaution in advance of expected large demonstrations and potential unrest in Egypt this weekend:

About 200 combat capable Marines in Sigonella, Italy, and Moron, Spain, have been told to be ready to be airborne within 60 minutes of getting orders to deploy, according to two administration officials.

The units have several V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft that would carry troops and infantry weapons to Egypt to protect the U.S. Embassy and American government personnel and citizens if violence broke out against Americans.

The officials both emphasized this is contingency planning in advance of the expected demonstrations to ensure American military assets, including rescue forces, can act if needed. In the event Americans had to be evacuated from Egypt and could not get to the airport due to the unrest, there are about 2,000 additional Marines on board three Navy warships in the Red Sea, officials said.

A third official said the decision to keep the warship in the Red Sea was “very precautionary.”

Continue reading:  Out of precaution, Marines on ready to go to Egypt to protect U.S. Embassy, citizens.

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US Embassy Egypt: PAO Larry Schwartz Thrown Under the Bus Over “Inappropriate Apology”

There was that clip of a badly made obscure movie posted in YouTube which roiled the mob in Cairo on September 11. (AP on Sept. 12, said its search for those behind the film led to a Coptic Christian in California who had been convicted of financial crimes). The US Embassy in Egypt released the following statement:

U.S. Embassy Condemns Religious Incitement
September 11, 2012

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.

GOP Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney waded in with a statement here, calling “disgraceful” an early response to the assault in Cairo and saying it sympathized with the attackers.  The embassy statement, an apparent reference to the video clip in YouTube, was posted hours before the official death in Libya was reported.

Politifact consulted three apology experts who all agreed that the statement from the US Embassy in Cairo was not an apology because one expert says, 1) it did not use the word “apology” or said “we’re sorry”; 2) the statement condemns the actions of a third party and 3) it does not apologize for the right of free speech. Another expert says “To say that someone who deliberately insults others in the name of religion has acted wrongly isn’t an apology — it’s simply a recognition that those insults go too far.” Still another of Politifact’s experts says “it is a condemnation of ‘abuse’ of the universal value of free speech. A condemnation is not an apology. … The Embassy statement also reaffirms two American values: the American value of respect for religious beliefs and the American value of democracy.”

No matter, that condemnation statement from the US Embassy Cairo has now entered the twilight zone of presidential politics and The Cable’s Josh Rogin has the scoop inside this public relations disaster at our Cairo embassy. Two responsible officials were named in the article — the Deputy Chief of Mission Marc Sievers, who was the acting charge d’affairs and the embassy’s senior public affairs officer Larry Schwartz. Mr. Schwartz was previously Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and a seasoned public diplomacy officer. He, presently, just got thrown under the bus over the apology controversy. And run over twice once more for good measure.

Here is an excerpt:

“In an effort to cool the situation down, it didn’t come from me, it didn’t come from Secretary Clinton. It came from people on the ground who are potentially in danger,” Obama said. “And my tendency is to cut folks a little bit of slack when they’re in that circumstance, rather than try to question their judgment from the comfort of a campaign office.”

But Obama’s remarks belie the enormous frustration of top officials at the State Department and White House with the actions of the man behind the statement, Cairo senior public affairs officer Larry Schwartz, who wrote the release and oversees the embassy’s Twitter feed, according to a detailed account of the Tuesday’s events.
[....]
Before issuing the press release, Schwartz cleared it with just one person senior to himself, Deputy Chief of Mission Marc Sievers, who was the acting charge d’affairs at the embassy on Tuesday because Ambassador Anne Patterson was in Washington at the time, the official said.

Schwartz sent the statement to the State Department in Washington before publishing and the State Department directed him not to post it without changes, but Schwartz posted it anyway.

“The statement was not cleared with anyone in Washington. It was sent as ‘This is what we are putting out,'” the official said. “We replied and said this was not a good statement and that it needed major revisions. The next email we received from Embassy Cairo was ‘We just put this out.'”
[...]
“People at the highest levels both at the State Department and at the White House were not happy with the way the statement went down. There was a lot of anger both about the process and the content,” the official said. “Frankly, people here did not understand it. The statement was just tone deaf. It didn’t provide adequate balance. We thought the references to the 9/11 attacks were inappropriate, and we strongly advised against the kind of language that talked about ‘continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.'”

Despite being aware of Washington’s objections, the embassy continued to defend the statement for several hours, fueling the controversy over it, a decision the official again attributed to Schwartz.

Perhaps it is telling that The Cable’s source are “one U.S. official close to the issue” and “two additional administration officials”, all unnamed.  If this went down as detailed in the report, shouldn’t we at least know who’s pointing fingers?  Considering that one congressman, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) is already calling for the State Department to “issue an immediate apology to the American people and fire those officials responsible for the initial statement” — that seems only fair.

Who would have thought that Twitter is such a dangerous sinkhole.

Anyway here’s the thing — Foreign Service officers are really, really excellent at following the chalked lines. You don’t see a lot of rogue and old diplomats for very good reasons. And they, certainly, do not suddenly forget their clearance procedures because they were confronted with a badly made, badly written and badly acted movie clip in YouTube; much less, defy a direct order from the State Department when it comes to an official statement for public consumption. Unless, of course, the officer is looking to commit a career suicide. And I’m not convinced that is the case with man of the hour, Larry Schwartz.

It would be nice to know who in the State Department “directed” Mr. Schwartz not/not to post the statement without changes, wouldn’t it? Was it somebody in the Bureau of Public Affairs? Was it somebody in the regional bureau? Did anyone also tell him that if this sh*t blows up we’ll make sure Foreign Policy knows how to spell your name?

This is what you’d call the bureaucratic duck and cover. It looks like the poor sod under the bus did not get a lot warning.  If he did get some warning, we’d be interested to know if he got a special phone call telling him to take one for the team before they throw him to the sharks on a feeding frenzy.

Update: WaPo’s The Fact Checker has a long item on this here in An embassy statement, a tweet, and a major misunderstanding.

 

 

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