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Letter to the editor: Ohio State alumnus imprisoned in Egypt deserves more help

Mohamed Soltan appeared in court on May 11, 2014 and gave a speech defending his right to a fair trial and decision to protest through a hunger strike. In this photo, Soltan was on day 105 of his hunger strike and had lost 99 pounds from his original weight.

Mohamed Soltan appeared in court on May 11 and gave a speech defending his right to a fair trial and decision to protest through a hunger strike. In this photo, Soltan was on day 105 of his hunger strike and had lost 99 pounds from his original weight. Credit: Courtesy of Free Soltan campaign

Letter to the editor:

Mohamed Soltan will die soon. If no one with actual power moves to help him, he will die as a result of the last-ditch hunger strike he began in January. Soltan will starve to death, the victim of one government that has lost all respect for humanity, fair laws and justice, and another government that does not care to help one of its sons. Why is no one doing anything? Mohamed Soltan is an American citizen. Where is his country? He’s an OSU alumnus. Why aren’t other Buckeyes speaking up?

In September, President Barack Obama met with Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. He was in a rush to reach his real priority — ISIS and other terrorist groups — and so he seems to have briefly brought up the plight of Soltan and then moved on. Also in September, the Department of Homeland Security visited the Noor Islamic Cultural Center of Dublin, Ohio. It, too, was interested in talking about the radicalization of American youth and about ISIS.

This is all very telling. The only Muslim worth discussing, according to Obama and the folks at Homeland Security, is a terrorist Muslim rampaging through Syria and Iraq, or a Muslim at risk of being “radicalized” — i.e. who might be a threat. As for the hundreds who were massacred by the Egyptian regime’s security forces — nothing but a few ineffectual mutters. As for Mohamed Soltan, no reaction. The few feeble remonstrations from the State Department and the embassy’s visits are worse than nothing; they are transparent hypocrisy, an insult to the victims of Sisi’s brave new Egypt. Set them against Secretary of State John Kerry’s sickening praise of Sisi as a “restorer of democracy,” against the ongoing military aid, the sales of military hardware such as Apache helicopters, and so on — set them against all that, and they are reduced to nothing. The aid Soltan has received from his country might as well be non-existent.

At any rate: Obama is concerned about ISIS. So is American media. So is the American public. The alarm is rising from all corners — all the way from the tin-foil conspiracy theorists who believe ISIS is an Israeli-American creation and only beheads in front of a green screen, on down to the Hannitys and O’Reillys of punditry. All around, the images of turbaned lunatics with rocket-propelled grenades slung over their shoulders and one finger pointing to the sky dominate the debate. Everyone wants to know how the problem of ISIS will be solved.

And yet no one wants to know why ISIS exists. They seem to think this problem can be solved without basic knowledge. They seem to think that throwing yet more bombs and weapons at the region will solve it all. 

Wonder of wonders: there is a reason for ISIS, and it is not a religion, nor an inherent violent tendencyof Arabs. It is corrupt dictatorial regimes that thrive under the aegis of American foreign policy. Terrorist groups always have been and always will be shaped by political factors and motivated by political goals. As long as the Egyptian regime and regimes like it are free to murder, imprison and repress, ISIS will be free to kill, rape and pillage. As long as Mohamed Soltan and those like him are sacrificed for the expedience of a sham “war on terror,” terrorist groups will thrive and multiply. As long as the ballot does no good, the bullet will be the loudest voice in the debate.

Soltan thought that he could make a change by helping build his country, by participating in a free and fair democratic process. For his troubles, he was shot, pursued like a hardened criminal and imprisoned for more than a year without proper charges, much less a fair trial. Now he has been on hunger strike for about 300 days. He has been tortured. He has lived in squalid conditions not fit for human beings. 

Soltan is not a young man in trouble in a far-away country for being in the wrong place in the wrong time. He is a symbol of a generation of young American Muslims who dreamed of a bright future in which the countries of their fathers could be like the countries where they were brought and in which they had hoped to raise their sons and daughters. Soltan is someone who wanted to build up his country, as opposed to hurting others. What message will American Muslim youth receive when they see one of their best and brightest trampled for a misguided and cynical political strategy? 

Something can be done. The Egyptian regime is not like the regimes of North Korea or Iran, already under sanctions and beyond reasoning. It is routinely given handouts by America and the Gulf states. Instead of being censored, it is routinely praised (and in distastefully fawning terms in the case of Kerry) as a partner. Sisi’s regime is not an ally, it is a liability. If Obama is serious about addressing ISIS, he must rely on a true coalition of the willing, as opposed to a few tyrants whose rule will prove ephemeral.

The last true hope for a just and lasting solution to terrorism is to not support terrorist acts committed by so-called allies. The United States should end its support of the regime of Sisi. It should end its condescending and two-faced attitude toward Arab peoples. A coup is a coup, and a military dictator is only as benevolent to his captive people as a rancher is to the fatted calf. Last week, U.S. director of national intelligence James Clapper visited North Korea and effected the release of the last two Americans who had been held by that supposedly inveterate foe. Why can’t he extend to Mohamed Soltan of Columbus, Ohio, the same effort that he gave to Kenneth Bae of Lynnwood, Washington, and Matthew Miller of Bakersfield, California?

If the government is so keen on stopping ISIS, it could start by helping American citizens like Mohamed Soltan.

For those who want to help: make sure that the word gets out. Follow the Free Soltan team on Facebook and Twitter. Speak about this with your friends. More importantly, contact your representatives and senators. Call their offices again and again until you get a real reply. Write letter after letter. Use the form provided by the Council on American-Islamic Relations to contact the White House. Contact governmental agencies like the Department of State through their public communication division and their online forms. Get into contact with the Egyptian embassy in Washington, D.C. Remind these politicians and bureaucrats that Soltan is still alive and still deserving of basic human rights.

Abdulrahman Al-Ruwaishan

Fourth-year in journalism and psychology



  1. I’ve got a novel idea. Let’s do nothing. Let the Muslims deal with their own problems for a change. Let’s let countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait with their endless ocean of money and Western-bought armaments figure it out instead. Surely they – being practitioners of the religion of compassion and peace – will step right up to the plate in our stead.
    OK, you caught me there. You knew I was kidding! You knew what I know which is that there is no answer to these Islamic cesspools. Whatever we do will be discredited and if we do nothing then Syria will become just another country in the endless line of Hell on Earth Islamic countries.
    We cannot save Muslims from themselves. It is like trying to save an alcoholic. Until they are ready to abandon their religion – a religion that emphasizes aggression and violence and sadism – anything we do will simply be a band-aid on a gaping wound.
    Let them go through their DTs on their own. Only then will they be ready for our friendship and help, and only then will we find a way forward together as friends.

  2. Quotes from your letter: “Mohamed Soltan is an American citizen. Where is his country? Soltan thought that he could make a change by helping build his country, by participating in a free and fair democratic process.Soltan is someone who wanted to build up his country, as opposed to hurting others”
    He’s an American citizen in a foreign country, who was arrested for crimes related to democracy? Why should the government intervene to help someone who knowingly traveled to a foreign country to break the law? You make statements that he wants to help build his country, his country is the United States of America, unless he has dual citizenship. He made a series of poor decisions and unfortunately he must pay the price for those decisions. How is this the government’s fault?

  3. In our government, when it comes to US citizens of middle eastern descent, the US government does not seem to care, but when it is a citizen of WASP background then a lot of effort is put to help them. it started with US citizens of Palestinian origin in Israel , and now of Egyptian origin in Egypt, is it racial discrimination, or what is the explanation for this kind of differential treatment?

  4. I hope that people who reads this will realize that going to Muslim countries is putting your life in jepordy. What a stupid thing to do.

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