Jewish World Review August 22, 2002 / 14 Elul, 5762

Tresa McBee

Tresa McBee
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Consumer Reports

Egypt and Saudi Arabia: Curious inconsistencies | Alice was right. Sometimes things just get curiouser and curiouser. Like the report last week that the prez has decided to oppose additional aid to Egypt in protest over the conviction of Saad Eddin Ibrahim and the Egyptian government's less-than-stellar support of pro-democracy organizations.

As The Washington Post explains, Ibrahim, who holds dual Egyptian and American citizenship, was charged by Egyptian authorities with embezzling funds, tainting Egypt's image and receiving foreign funds from the European Union without permission. The EU investigated and concluded that the voter-awareness funds were correctly used.

Ibrahim, director of an Egyptian center on social development, was arrested two years ago after announcing that his center would monitor Egypt's parliamentary elections. He claimed in a 1995 report that voting was rigged. Held in jail for seven months before trial, Ibrahim was sentenced to seven years. The case was remanded for retrial this past spring, when he was again convicted and remains imprisoned.

Also a university professor who writes and lectures about democratic values, advocates for minorities' rights and teaches people how to vote, Ibrahim is most certainly a thorn in Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's side. Egypt, while not the worst offender, restricts many basic rights, as noted by our State Department's human rights report. Freedom of expression is rated "poor," and freedom of the press, religion, and assembly and association are all restricted, some "significantly."

Human-rights groups operate openly but aren't legally recognized and are periodically harassed. And rules could soon tighten regulations governing registration of nongovernmental groups and their access to foreign funds, especially democracy-building grants. Thus, groups not in Mubarak's favor will find their mission even more difficult.

Ibrahim's conviction and Egypt's troublesome treatment of pro-democracy organizations flipped a switch for President Bush. Existing aid of $2 billion a year Egypt is one of the biggest beneficiaries of U.S. aid won't be affected, but Bush won't support Egypt's request for an additional $130 million this year. Whereas the United States has previously objected to Egypt's human-rights violations via bureaucratic and therefore ineffective channels, Ibrahim's imprisonment was the straw that broke the overburdened camel's back. Ibrahim is an American citizen, after all.

Yes, curiouser and curiouser.

Because I wonder: Where has U.S concern been regarding U.S. citizens held hostage in one of the world's most oppressive regimes?

I refer, of course, to our friend and ally Saudi Arabia, the Islamic theocracy that permits no freedom, regards women as chattel useful only for breeding and promotes terrorism outside its borders so as to keep the corrupt House of Saud enthroned.

Where's U.S. concern for American daughters, who have been kidnapped and taken to Saudi Arabia to be demeaned and abused via all means legal in that desert and refused passage home by Saudi fathers and husbands without whose permission no woman goes anywhere?

Where's U.S. concern for women like Alia and Aisha Gheshayan, born to American Pat Roush and kidnapped by their Saudi father in 1986, held in Saudi Arabia and denied visas by their male Saudi captors? Roush has worked for almost two decades to bring her American daughters home, and virtually no U.S. official with influence has done anything, except to use the sensitive-matters default and claim powerlessness in child custody cases. Except Alia and Aisha were taken illegally as children and are now young women held hostage.

Where's U.S. concern for Amjad Radwan, also born to an American mother but stuck in the kingdom and denied an exit visa by her Saudi father? Subjected to the brutality -- both physical and sexual -- tolerated in Saudi society, Amjad wants to experience American freedom. As she told William McGurn of The Wall Street Journal, "My mother always tells me how free America is, and how much my grandmother, my aunts and uncles and cousins in America love me. But though I am American I cannot go see them."

Perhaps the United States expects women like Alia, Aisha and Amjad -- that is, if any U.S. official bothers to think of such Americans at all -- to make it out of Saudi Arabia on their own like Alexandria Davis did.

Kidnapped by her Saudi father in 1997 while living with her American mother in Miami, Alexandria was held in the kingdom for two years, locked in her house and forced to eat on the floor because of her Christian status, which her father repeatedly reminded her would condemn her to hell. She was beaten when her secret calls to America were discovered.

Alexandria's mother taped those desperate calls and shared them with U.S. officials and the American Embassy in Riyadh. No one cared.

So Alexandria's grandmother sold her house and raised $200,000 for Alexandria's escape. Alexandria risked death if caught, but, as she told the House Committee on Government Reform in June, "I would have rather died than to have lived as a woman in Saudi Arabia." She also said she couldn't understand why her country wouldn't help her, an American.

Neither can I. And so it is indeed curious that President Bush and select officials should refuse aid to Egypt based on human-right violations and the imprisonment of Ibrahim and yet do nothing to bring home Americans held hostage in a country that spits on everything we stand for.

In his State of the Union Address in January, Bush said, "America will always stand firm for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice and religious tolerance."

Saudi Arabia stands firm on none of those. We absolutely should. Especially for our countrywomen kept from their own shores.

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JWR contributor Tresa McBee is a columnist for the Northwest Arkansas Times. Comment by clicking here.

08/15/02: Hey, fellas: Beware the fairer sex ain't always fair
08/08/02: Why women will remain the at-risk gender
08/01/02: Girl: The new four-letter word?

© 2002, Northwest Arkansas Times