This Father’s Day, I hope President Biden pushes for my father’s freedom in Egypt \ - The Freedom Initiative

This Father’s Day, I hope President Biden pushes for my father’s freedom in Egypt

Mohamed Soltan is a human rights advocate and founder of the Freedom Initiative.

Last Father’s Day, my wife told me I was going to be a father while we sat in front of the reflecting pool in Washington, D.C. I felt the budding excitement of starting a family as we embraced and shed happy tears. We needed good news during a week otherwise marked by fear and despair. Only six days prior, my own father, a political prisoner who was serving a life sentence in Egypt, had disappeared from his prison cell, in retaliation for my human rights advocacy in the United States. My apolitical cousins were also arrested, then released after several months. My father’s whereabouts, however, remain unknown.

My wife and I would confront the devastating reality of a miscarriage weeks later. The brief prospect of becoming a father laid bare the irrepressible pain I feel this Father’s Day. As thousands around the world whose fathers are detained in Egypt’s dungeons must also feel, the day is a painful reminder of another year passing.

As I recently reflected on surviving one of the most difficult years of my life — and I do not use the term “survive” lightly, considering I was shot in the arm as I live-tweeted a massacre, then wrongfully imprisoned and tortured for 22 months, most of which I spent on hunger strike, on the cusp of death — a dull but familiar feeling of guilt began to creep up. It was the same emptiness I felt as I gave the commencement speech while graduating from a top-ranked master’s program weeks ago, or when we welcomed my niece into the world. It was the same feeling I endured at my wedding, wincing at an empty seat at the dinner table. My dad’s unjust detainment in 2013 has been complicated and painful. After seven years of holidays, family dinners and mundane Saturdays, his absence is now routine and somehow still devastating.

My dad disappeared on June 15, 2020, after I filed a federal lawsuit against former interim Egyptian prime minister and then-International Monetary Fund executive board director Hazem el-Beblawi accusing him of attempted extrajudicial killing and torture. Beblawi lived just miles away from my home, enjoying the same liberties and freedoms that he unabashedly deprived millions of Egyptians of.

My dad is a scholar of Islamic jurisprudence, a former official in the Mohamed Morsi government and a U.S. green card holder. Though not a formal member, he is ideologically aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood and has expressed views that I find unnuanced and, at times, repugnant. But Egypt’s vicious treatment of him has little to do with his views on religion or politics, or his speech. No evidence has ever been brought forth of his involvement in any of the crimes he is charged with. In 2019, he was designated as a prisoner of political opinion by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and his release was urgently demanded.

Like many Egyptians, my father is being weaponized by the Egyptian regime in a transnational hostage-taking campaign to intimidate critics outside of Egypt into silence. This merciless repression campaign is an assault on the U.S. justice system, and on my constitutionally protected rights to pursue truth, justice and accountability for the regime’s human rights violations.

For years, I feared that being too vocal on my father’s behalf would provide fuel to those ready to adopt the Egyptian regime’s propaganda, which labels all critics, dissidents or rights defenders as “terrorists.” But now I’ve chosen to speak out, hoping that the administration will see the treatment of my father for what it is: part of a growing pattern of intimidation and harassment that extends far beyond just me and my family.

Mohamed Soltan at his home on May 31, 2020, in Fairfax, Va. (Pete Marovich/For The Washington Post)

I would like to believe thathope is not misplaced. Egypt’s reprisals against me and my family got the attention of international human rights organizationsWestern government bodies and even political campaigns. In 2020, then-candidate Joe Biden tweeted about my family’s plight, even promising “no more blank checks for Trump’s ‘favorite dictator.’ ”

Regrettably, so far, the Biden administration has missed a few crucial opportunities to fulfill its promise of centering human rights in the bilateral relationship. In April, the administration unnecessarily employed a legal loophole to provide Beblawi with immunity from my torture lawsuit. It then announced arms sales and requested $1.3 billion in taxpayer dollars for Egypt with no human rights conditions.

This past year has been one of trials, tribulations and loss for my family. We also lost my paternal uncle and aunt to covid-19. What I cannot lose, however, is hope that my dad, flawed as he is, will one day meet and play with his grandchild as we fervently debate politics over dinner.

So, on this Father’s Day, my wish is for President Biden, who knows how loss hollows the joy of every occasion, to reunite my family with our father. In doing so, he could protect me and my family from the cruelty of the Egyptian regime — and stand strong for our fundamental right to be free.