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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 Mar
kc 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.
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.
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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