Economist’s Death in Custody Rocks Egypt
Ayman Hadhoud, member of a liberal party, had been held in a mental hospital ‘at the request of the security authorities’
[Cairo] This week Egypt’s political and intellectual classes were confronted with a disturbing incident. One of their own was killed while in custody. Prominent economist Ayman Hadhoud was found dead under suspicious circumstances.
Hadhoud, 48, was a member of the liberal, centrist Reform and Development Party and an economic adviser to Mohamed Anwar Esmat Sadat, the party’s co-founder, a member of the National Council for Human Rights, and a nephew of the late President Anwar Sadat.
Earlier this month rumors began to circulate among members of Cairo’s political class that Hadhoud had been detained for two months and that his family was having trouble locating him.
Omar Hadhoud, Ayman’s brother and a lawyer, told The Media Line, “Ayman disappeared on February 5, and on February 8, we received a call from a security figure that my brother was at the State Security [the National Security Agency] headquarters.”
Ayman Hadhoud was arrested on February 6 on charges of theft. Two days later, his brother was summoned to the police station, nine Egyptian human rights organizations said in a joint statement on April 14.
Ayman’s brother Adel and a family friend went to the police station. A National Security Agency officer asked them several questions about Ayman, including his work, field of study and activity. The officer also asked about his other brothers and their workplaces, the joint statement continued.
The officer “informed them at the end of the meeting that Ayman Hadhoud is being held by the National Security Agency,” the human rights organizations said.
Omar Hadhoud added, “When we inquired about the reason for Ayman’s detention, we did not receive a response. We asked to see him so we could deliver food and clothes to him, and they said, ‘Don’t come here again; when we need you, we will ask you.’”
The human rights organizations’ statement notes that despite continual inquiries, the family could not obtain any information on the charges against Hadhoud. On February 17, the family received word that Hadhoud was being detained at the Abbasiya Mental Health Hospital. On February 23 the hospital director informed them that Hadhoud “is in good health and that he is under observation at the request of the security authorities” and noted that visitors must obtain a permit from the security services or the Public Prosecution to see him.
The rights organizations’ statement goes on to say that the family unsuccessfully continued its attempts to obtain information from the Public Prosecution and to visit Hadhoud at the hospital.
In March, the hospital began denying that Hadhoud was there.
At the beginning of April, one of Hadhoud’s friends was able to find out that he had died a month earlier at the hospital, and yet no information about the whereabouts of his body has been obtained.
Hadhoud was set to be buried in an unmarked grave when the family finally located the body.
Mohamed Zaree, director of the Egypt Program at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, told The Media Line “This is bleak and terrifying. Hadhoud’s writings on his personal [social media] account show that he is resentful and indignant at the current situation and public policies, but this does not warrant arresting him, and certainly not torturing him to death. This is horrifying.”
Before his arrest Hadhoud was critical of the political situation in Egypt. His phone and laptop were never recovered by the family. Authorities claim that he didn’t have them when he was arrested.
Ahmed Samih, director of the Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, a human rights organization shut down by Egyptian authorities in 2016, told The Media Line, “It is rumored that Ayman Hadhoud presented a research paper to parliamentarians and staff and other Egyptian officials stating that Egypt is on its way to bankruptcy and that this is an inevitable fate. But this information is not confirmed.
“Second, which was confirmed to me, Ayman was working on a project to document the buying of seats in both houses of Parliament, noting that corrupt security figures are involved in this matter. I believe that this is the real reason for his detention,” Samih said.
Zaree noted, “Yes, there is torture in Egypt, but the general perception insists that the matter is under control and that torture does not lead to death. But now we are facing the second internationally infamous case after the killing of the Italian researcher Giulio Regeni.”
Regeni, a doctoral student at Girton College, Cambridge, was abducted and tortured to death in Egypt in 2016. He had been researching the country’s independent trade unions.
The Egyptian Social Democratic Party mourned Hadhoud’s death in a statement, saying he “was a great example of a researcher and economic expert, with a clear, enlightened and sober mind, as was known by many within the party and in political work.”
Zaree continued, “All this leads us to the conviction that we are not in a state of law or logic. What did he do? Even in totalitarian regimes, there are red lines. Now there are no more red lines. We no longer know where safety is. Because the easiest thing now is to arrest you and it is also easy to torture and die because of the lack of accountability.”
Ambassador Dr. Moushira Khattab, president of the National Council for Human Rights, said in a statement issued by the council on April 11 that the Public Prosecution’s investigation into the death of Hadhoud must cover all concerns raised about “the alleged forced disappearance of the deceased.”
Leaders of the Reform and Development Party called for those responsible to be held accountable once the autopsy report is released.
Rawya Mokhtar, a parliamentarian from the party, demanded the urgent formation of a fact-finding committee from the head of the House of Representatives.