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Two German citizens reportedly detained in Egypt

Egyptian-German students Mahmoud Abdel Aziz and Issa al-Sabagh were both arrested in December and have not been seen since
Mahmoud Abdel Aziz and Issa al-Sabagh (supplied)

Two German citizens were arrested in separate incidents last December upon arriving in Egypt, their families told Middle East Eye. Both are still missing.

The first, Mahmoud Abdel Aziz, a 23-year old student of Islamic Studies at Saudi Arabia’s Al-Madina Al-Monawara University, arrived in Cairo on 27 December with his brother Malik to visit their grandparents.

“Mahmoud was stopped at the passports line in the Cairo Airport, and the officer asked about his first and last names and ordered to accompany him,” Malik said.

Both Malik and Mahmoud only have German passports, which they used to enter the country. Both were born to Egyptian fathers, who now have German passports themselves.

“I went to collect our bags to save time, while they took him to another office. Then another officer took my passport, and both of us were escorted by a shuttle to another building where all flights arrive at,” Malik added.

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Egypt has a special terminal for flights from Saudi Arabia, to accommodate pilgrims, while other flights are directed to other terminals.

Issa is not politically active at all and does not understand politics

- Mohamed al-Sabagh, father of the reportedly detained Issa

As both sat down in one of the security offices and waited for two to three hours, an officer asked Malik whether he would accompany Mahmoud back to Medina If the latter is banned entry, or he would like to go back to Medina with him.

“At first I said I will leave with Mahmoud, but he [Mahmoud] later convinced me to go because our grandparents were waiting for us,” Malik said, adding both were going to visit their grandparents who live in Egypt.

Malik was escorted by an officer to customs. He tried to enter again to ask about his brother, but he was denied entry.

“I thought that they would actually take Mahmoud back to Medina, and I tried to call his phone and WhatsApp him, but no answer,” Malik said. On the next day, he tried to contact the German embassy, but it was the weekend.

“Then I called the emergency number in the German embassy, and they told us that they will update us if there is anything new.”

Mahmoud told MEE that his brother was in Egypt two years ago and attempted to study at Al-Azhar University. He asserted that Mahmoud was exempted from military service as he was a dual national, and that he was not politically active.

The other incident included Issa al-Sabagh, 18, a high school student in Giessen, who arrived alone at Luxor's airport on 17 December for a holiday.

“The ticket from Germany to Cairo was expensive, so he said he will go to Luxor first as it is cheaper and he could visit some monuments,” his father Mohamed al-Sabagh told MEE.

“He arrived in Luxor at two in the afternoon. He was supposed to go to a restaurant and visit some of the temples. I checked on him before the plane took off and he was OK, but after he landed, I was not able to contact him again,” Mohamed said.

Issa arrived in Luxor with his German passport, but he has an Egyptian national identification card. He was supposed to spend two weeks in Cairo with his grandfather.

“Through some connections, we learned that he is arrested in the Luxor State Security Building,” he said, adding that the family in Egypt has sent letters and reports to several officials.

“Issa is not politically active at all and does not understand politics. He was brought up in a German culture. Even when he used to learn Arabic in Egypt, he was not religious or had any orientations,” the father said.

Issa’s family contacted EgyptAir officials but they responded that “he checked in for the trip from Luxor to Cairo but didn’t board the plane.”

“This is when I learned that he was detained. I called the Germans and they said they are closely following the case,” he said.

Echoes of Giulio Regeni's case

The family said they could not help but think about the case of Giulio Regeni, a 28-year-old PhD researcher at Cambridge University, who disappeared in Cairo in January 2016.

His body was found by a roadside bearing extensive marks of torture.

“I collapsed the other day. His grandfather who is 93 is in a coma and is hospitalised,” Issa's father said, adding that his son's mother collapses whenever she remembers “what was done with Regeni.”

“We used to hear about this feeling that your child is kidnapped. But we never thought we will experience it,” he added.

Mohamed said that he heard about President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s interview with CBS News where he was asked about “60,000 people behind bars on charges.”

But he never thought that his son might be among them.

Issa has a brother and a sister, who according to his father “have decided never to go to Egypt again in their lives.”

“I even thought of going to Egypt to check on him, but my family advised against it so as to evade another crisis,” he said.

MEE contacted a representative from Egypt’s ministry of interior who denied that the ministry arrests anyone without a legal warrant. He refused to answer inquiries about the disappearance of Issa and Mahmoud.

According to AP, “Germany is looking into the apparent disappearance in recent weeks of two of its citizens in Egypt.”

The agency also quoted German foreign ministry spokesman Christofer Burger who said on Monday that “we are taking both cases very seriously.”

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