Until recently, I was being held in an Egyptian jail against my will.
I was imprisoned at gunpoint for days, deprived of food, threatened, interrogated, robbed, and beaten... all at the hands of the Egyptian government.
The following footage, photos, and report is a factual account of what I just experienced. The purpose of this report is not to sensationalize or dramatize, but instead to bring to light the atrocities that exist at this very moment in Egypt, and to consider how a simple breakdown in our own policies can take the life of an American abroad. I am not referring to the punishment of rebels, protesters, or criminals. I'm talking about a regular citizen, lawfully traveling under the now-tenuous umbrella of American protection, being abducted by governmental opportunist-thugs in Egypt, without cause.
I want you to know that my genuine motive here is that you view this report and voice your opinion by way of voting, writing letters to your political representation or any peaceful, beneficial and lawful action. You should also simply forward this report for others to become aware.
At noon on Thursday December 13th in Cairo, Egypt, I had just finished another, unrelated assignment nearby. I was staying in Egypt's posh "Mena House" hotel situated across the street from the Giza pyramids. I was to depart Thursday evening, and head back to New York City. I thought a fast visit to the pyramids would be in order, considering I was a few hundred yards from one of the greatest architectural feats in history; The Great Pyramid of Giza. This is the last surviving member of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and one of the world's oldest tourist attractions. More importantly here, it's the reason most tourists visit Egypt today.
As a matter of security for my colleagues, I'm changing some minor details in this report to protect their identity, so we'll call them Henry, Ira, and Michael. These are the only details I've changed.
Assuming I was going to be out of my hotel room for about an hour, I left with my camera, some pocket cash, and my hotel key, leaving my passport and the bulk of my property safely hidden in my hotel room... or so I thought.
My three colleagues and I headed across the street to visit the tallest man-made structure for almost four thousand years. The plan was to take some photos at the pyramids, pack up, and head to the airport in an hour or so.
Now, as an experienced traveler, I am well aware of the existing situation in Cairo, the unrest with a nearby revolution, and the potential of trouble if not careful. Additionally, I was in Cairo with the perception of comfort afforded me by my cavalry only minutes away; the United States Embassy. So, armed with these precautions and this assumed immunity to the local political issues, off I went for my "tourist hour" before heading home.
I should have recognized the guard-dog entrance and this painted message just outside of the hotel entrance, as an omen of sorts. The gracious graffiti, complete with barricaded and armored, policemen, was situated about fifty feet from the entrance of the hotel, and equally close to the pyramid entrance.
We hired and paid an Egyptian guide by the name of Hamdy Abu El Kheer. Hamdy was a mature man, about 60, and affiliated with Ahlan wa Sahlan, a travel fixer company of sorts. We'll get back to them.
Hamdy told us that he'd take us into the pyramids and show us the best locations for photos. Since tourism is a primary source of income for the locals, we were happy to oblige. So we paid our entrance fee, entered Hamdy's beat-up old car, and drove into the pyramid area as instructed.
I immediately began to notice men with automatic rifles and back-pocket guns, most of which were not uniformed, and some in Egyptian police uniforms. I was unsure as to why stone pyramids which were unguarded by fences, velvet ropes or even "do not touch" signs needed automatic machine guns for protection, but it was no matter. I was taking pictures and moving on.
I asked Hamdy if I could walk to the pyramid base and do an opener for my show, for file use later, and he said we'd need permission from the Antiquities police. We approached the police, and Hamdy spoke privately with them in Arabic. When he returned, Hamdy advised us to pay another few hundred Egyptian pounds to the police and I'd be allowed to photograph from the base of the pyramid. I gave Hamdy the money and he paid the police. We walked, with a few uniformed police guards, to the base of the pyramid where I stepped up a few stones and began filming. I photographed the city, the pyramid, myself, a drummer nearby, and of course, my intro for later use. Little did I know I'd use it for this version of the story.
In minutes, I looked down and a crowd was forming around my colleagues at the base of the pyramid. The crowd consisted of several armed men, with and without uniforms, as well as an obvious figurehead; later referred to as "The General," and another boss-type called "The Other General". The General was barking out orders and it was clear something was wrong as he began pointing at me and yelling. Seconds later, my colleagues were physically grabbed and forced back into Hamdy's car. I began to climb down the few stones I scaled, with permission and fees paid, to see what happened when the General's attention was turned toward me. He yelled at the plain clothed armed men and they immediately ran to me, machine guns aimed directly at my head, and forced me back into Hamdy's car as well.
Once in the car, Hamdy explained that we were "in trouble" and were being escorted back to the police station for questioning. When asked what we did wrong, Hamdy replied "I don't know."
Our car was flanked by a makeshift police car with armed occupants aiming their rifles at our car as well as police on foot running behind the cars for the few hundred yard drive back to the police station.
The only thing I could think of was that they changed their mind about the videotaping which they had previously approved, escorted me for, and I paid for. So, I thought it may not be a bad idea to remove and hide the camera's data card. So I stashed the camera card in the rear seat pocket of Hamdy's car, and replaced it with a blank.
When we arrived at the police station a minute later, we were escorted at gunpoint from Hamdy's car, and into the police station where we sat in the lobby. With my iPhone, I quickly snapped this photo from the lobby looking out at my hotel.
Let me remind you, we were grabbed amid numerous tourists taking photos, videos, and buying trinkets from the local merchants on foot and camel. We are now at the base of the pyramid area, in the police station lobby, and less than a hundred feet from my hotel walls.
Henry has dual citizenship in the US and Israel and had his US passport with him. Ira is a Muslim with an Israeli passport, and Michael is a Ukrainian traveling on a Ukrainian passport. I am a US citizen traveling with a US passport. None of us are politicians, have any criminal history, or diplomatic issues of any kind. We were tourists taking pictures, during business hours, at the country's largest tourist attraction.
We arrived at the police station at about 3:30 pm local time. We were sitting in the run down entrance lobby for an hour or so before police spoke to us, other than to gesture commands to sit and be quiet. At about 4:30 pm, one of the uniformed police sat at the only desk in the room. There was no phone, not a computer screen is sight, and no visible connection with the outside world, other than the one door in the lobby, exiting to the street.
I was imprisoned at gunpoint for days, deprived of food, threatened, interrogated, robbed, and beaten... all at the hands of the Egyptian government. --an excerpt from "Captured in Cairo", a video essay on the capture and incarceration of AND Publisher and Stipko Live host, Aaron Stipkovich in December, 2012. | Photo: Stipko Media |
On the desk was a stack of tattered, dirty, paper journals. They appeared to be some sort of archaic log system. There was nothing in the police station lobby that would indicate any record of me entering or exiting. This concerned me. Additionally, the uniformed police had no badge, name tags, ID or any identifying signs, other than a few who had stars on their shoulders.
The man who sat at the desk has one star on his shoulder. One by one, he interviewed all four of us, asking basic questions like, name, address, and "why are you in Cairo?" He paid particular attention to me and my camera, as well as Ira, the Arab-Israeli. As he interviewed, he scribbled in the journal. Log pages repeatedly fell out of the journal, and subservient men nearby scrambled to pick them up for the one-star. He stuffed them in the back of the journal. I shuddered to think whose information was just misfiled or lost. When he spoke to me, he took my video camera and placed it on the dusty table. As he spoke, other police and plain clothed men began examining the camera as if it was from a distant planet. They passed it around, mumbling to each other as if to trade theories as to what this shiny metal object was.
This was darkly comical at first. I've been to Cairo numerous times with no hassles or drama whatsoever. I thought, "OK, this is an event to remember." Little did I know...
Eventually, the one-star asked me to show him what I recorded. I told him "I recorded nothing" because as soon as I got to the pyramid, I was grabbed and detained. I never began recording.
As you can see, this was a lie. Much of the footage I am showing you was taken during those moments on the pyramid, but I was not about to admit anything. This was becoming the wild, wild, East and my confidence index in the environment was diminishing my the second.
The one-star asked me if I had anything else with me and I told him I had a camera bag in the car. He told me to "go get it" and ordered Hamdy to escort me.
Hamdy? Why was my driver now my guard? Odd. We walked outside to Hamdy's car and I was trying to negotiate grabbing the camera bag and re-hiding the hidden camera card at the same time. Hamdy saw me and said he had a better hiding place for it. At this point, I knew I really didn't have a choice but to trust him. Hamdy lowered his tilt-steering wheel and stuffed the card on top of the steering column, then raised the steering wheel. The card was now embedded in the dashboard of Hamdys card. He assured me it was safe and I could trust him.
We returned to the police station and I gave the one-star my camera bag. He rummaged through my bag, lenses, adapters, and data cards to no avail. It was clear he was out of his technological league which frustrated him more. He yelled at me saying he "trusted me" and wanted to see what was on the camera. I asked him to repeat himself, because he didn't really make sense. He then yelled that I was "scum and he didn't trust me" and he wanted to see what was on the camera. I played him the blank video card and he was mystified. A crowd of police now began to surround me, peering over my shoulder at the shiny metal object. So I showed him that if I recorded something, it would show as an icon on the camera's screen. I demonstrated by taking a few seconds of video of him, which freaked him out. Then I showed him how to erase it. Intellectually exhausted and angry, he slammed the camera on the desk, the lens cap and dust cover shattered, and he shoved me back to my seat.
The first physical contact.
After an additional hour or so of broken-English questioning, we were asked to follow a uniformed man, with no stars, through a rear door in the lobby. The door led through another small area which resembled a tiny courtroom of sorts, unorganized and filled with people. We then passed through another door to a small, outdoor courtyard, about 20 feet square with high concrete walls all around. We were told to wait there a moment, with two armed men pointing guns at us while we waited.
The absurdity was mounting.
Moments later the one-star officer appeared with a large ring of keys. He walked past us, to a small concrete cubicle structure across the courtyard and unlocked a steel door. He opened the door and motioned for me to get in.
I thought he was joking.
I could see the cell interior from where I was standing and it was clearly an empty concrete box with no visible window and secured by a rusted, imposing steel door. I hesitated in disbelief and one of the armed men standing next to me produced a long stick, about the size of a cane, and struck me on the shins. The guards all suddenly screamed at the four of us to get in the cell. They shoved us in, giving particular aggression to me, being larger than them and clearly attempting intimidation, to prevent any possible resistance in the future.
In seconds I found myself crammed in a dark, cold, concrete cell, with no window, dirt and stains everywhere, and a three inch hole in the floor, clearly used as a toilet. While the stench was unbearable, it was nothing compared to the onslaught of terror, realizing I was just thrown into a four foot by six foot, concrete jail cell, in a Middle Eastern country during a revolution. No one knew where I was. No one told me why I was there. My phone didn't work. It was getting dark. I was missing my flight. ...and I was in jail!
To recap; I was not searched. They took my camera, but not my iPhone (which only worked as a camera anyway). One of my colleagues was Israeli. We have not been told why we were detained. I've been beaten with a stick. I'm a few hundred feet from my hotel room. My local, rented driver is standing outside my cell door. It's cold and dark. ...and I'm in jail. The worst thing I can think of is that I videotaped something I wasn't supposed to, although I can't imagine what I saw that hasn't already been seen by the millions who have viewed the pyramids over the last four thousand years. Even if I did, so I'm beaten and jailed for videotaping? This is a major city in Egypt, a huge tourist attraction. I was grabbed in broad daylight... For what? Something's not right.
The seconds in that cell felt like an eternity. The seconds turned to minutes and the minutes turned to hours. We were crammed in a cell, with no food, water, blankets, or explanation. We had to stand or sit on the urine-stained floor... assuming it was urine. It may have been blood or feces. I had no way of telling. I was in a polo shirt, jeans, and sneakers. I had a watch, some cash, an iPhone with no service, and a bruised shin.
Henry, a smaller man, with much less tolerance than I for physical strain, began to lose his cool. He began knocking on the steel door, hoping someone on the outside would open the door and communicate something, anything to us. We could hear guards and passersby just outside the door, but we were ignored. Henry began pounding and kicking the steel door. The steel reverberated on the concrete walls of the cell and courtyard. The sound was huge. Since I had a bit more natural understanding of our captor's intentions, having been struck hours before, I cautioned Henry. A stubborn man, Henry ignored me and struck the door even harder.
There was no response.
We've now been in this cell for several hours. Hunger, thirst, the elements, and bodily function needs began to present themselves. It was cold and dark and we were a few tourists imprisoned at gunpoint for photographing pyramids. This was insane! Having reached his limit (or so he thought,) Henry began cursing and threatening the guards in an all-out screaming and door-pounding rage.
Still, no response.
The evening turned into night, then morning. We did not sleep. We did not drink or eat. We froze in this concrete box while guards laughed, conversed, and milled about just outside our door. Our flight home is long gone. Who knows what the hotel has done with our belongings. We had just spent the night in a concrete cell in Egypt, at gunpoint. In just eighteen hours the four of us were beginning to now, pray for the door to open.
It was 7:30 am, the next morning. The steel door finally opened and the dawn sunlight blinded us through the opened door. We were gruffly yanked out of the cell and lined up along the cell's exterior wall in the courtyard.
Being the next morning, there was a new set of guards and faces. One of them, approached me and spun me around, slamming my forehead up against the wall and handcuffed me. He proceeded to handcuff the other three as well. Another guard yelled at him, and reapplied the handcuffs to the four of us, interconnecting us in pairs. I was paired with Michael. Henry was paired with Ira.
We were then lined up in front of another line of men, women, and a few children who were already standing in the courtyard, handcuffed. We all stood there silently for an hour. Remember, it's been almost a day without food, water, sleep, a bathroom, or most importantly, an explanation. This was eerily reminiscent of a Planet of the Apes scene where the humans were being treated like vile subspecies while lined up for prosecution. I couldn't believe what I was experiencing.
My driver, Hamdy, appeared in the courtyard. He was not being held or restrained and had a fresh set of clothes on as well as a warm cup of coffee in his hand. I salivated at the scent and steam from the top of his cup. He said he "felt so bad" and wanted to see how he could help. I told him to immediately call the U. S. Embassy. Being a journalist who frequently reports and travels in other countries, I knew of a specific person of high authority in the Embassy with substantial experience in Egypt. I gave the name and specific instructions to Hamdy so he could make contact. Hamdy walked out of the courtyard to make the call. When he returned moments later, he showed me the active phone call. I was in handcuffs, with guns aimed at me point blank, so Hamdy had to put the phone to my ear. On the line was not my contact, but instead, an Embassy desk officer in charge of agriculture.
I explained the urgency of the situation to the female desk officer, repeated my name and contact person of authority, and urged her to do something immediately as my doom was approaching. She put me on hold for a few moments and returned, reluctantly telling me she what she was told, and she quoted, "you are in Egypt and subject to Egyptian law." She was very polite, sympathetic, and professional. She also said "don't shoot the messenger." But the fact remains, I told her I was a U.S. citizen, beaten and held against my will. I told her all the details of my capture and conditions. My embassy's response: "you're on your own."
Now, I want to make this perfectly clear. In the decades I have dealt with U. S. Embassies around the world, they've always been amazing. Efficient, helpful, informative, and an abundance of resources for the U.S. businessman and traveler, I am a complete supporter of our State Department Embassy personnel. Having traveled to Egypt numerous times, my interaction with the embassy staff in Cairo has always yielded consistent and exemplary results. I also understand the Embassy is not my personal attorney, travel agent, ATM, or security force.
With all that said, there was still a catastrophic breakdown somewhere. For all I knew, I was headed to my death and my country knew this, but was doing nothing on my behalf. Prior to my arrival in Cairo, I registered with the embassy. I followed their instructions and advisories. I traveled outside the hot zones. I operated by the book, to the letter. Yet, I was abandoned.
I'm not blaming the embassy. I am not blaming anyone. I don't know whose fault it is. I am inclined to think its my own fault for traveling to Egypt at this point. As far as my recommendation for Egyptian tourism, I'd say at this moment, avoid Egypt with every fiber in your body. It's a shame because I have met some wonderful people there in the past. Nevertheless, I am fiercely condemning those who detained me and beat me. But before I get to that, let me continue with the report because this incident had only just begun.
After speaking with the embassy desk officer that one time, Hamdy was told to take the phone away from my ear. This was the only time I was allowed to speak to anyone outside of my captors walls. Dozens of guards suddenly filled the outdoor courtyard, and surrounded the line of prisoners. We were then escorted out of the courtyard, through the front lobby, and out into the street. I was facing the entrance of my hotel, and I was in handcuffs and chains.
Waiting for us was a large truck with a oversized steel box on the back. It became clear this was a prisoner carrier. I felt the blood leave my face as we were led into this steel chamber, and the door slammed closed. We all sat on the two benches on either side of the metal box, with three old tires between the benches. It was horrifying. Everyone in the box was looking at everyone else with fear beyond words. They were all silent.
As the truck began to roll down the street, I could barely see through the tiny, steel grill opening which provided a modicum of ventilation. I heard yelling and street bedlam until we entered a highway of sorts. We drove for about 45 minutes. When we stopped, the steel door opened and we were escorted out of the box and onto the dirt road. We were in the center of a series of blown-out apartment buildings. It was the Middle East version of an abandoned ghost town.
The guards filed us into one of the buildings and we walked up three or four flights of stairs. The building we were in was utterly empty. No furniture, blow out doors and windows, and debris on the floors. There was no sign of anything official. I saw no phones, desks, signs, cameras, computers or staff. We were lined up against a wall where there were clearly others lined up before. The wall had clothing were marks at shoulder level where the others were lined up. Everyone but Michael and I were instructed to sit up against the wall. We were still connected by handcuffs. I was standing in front of one of the windows. As I said, there was no glass and we were three stories up. The room filled with these plainclothes armed guards and chained prisoners. It was silent. Everyone was waiting for something.
I began to weigh my options here. I considered jumping out the window and making a run for it. I thought that the risk of breaking an ankle or arm was less than the certain firing squad I was about to face. For those of you in the civil societies at the moment, you have no idea what it feels like to be helpless in a seemingly lawless environment at gunpoint and hated.
The problem with the jump was not only the three stories, or the lack of the neighborhood knowledge, it was the fact that I am handcuffed to Michael. He is a slight man, and was shivering from exposure and fear. There is no way I was going to make this jump with him tethered to me. It would be bad for both of us. Fortunately, a guard saw Michael shivering, almost violently, and uncuffed him from me, to sit Michael in a corner without draft.
This was my chance. I was handcuffed with my hands in front, the window is right behind me, the landing area is clear and dirt, and I was clearly more fit than any of the guards bumbling around on the floor.
As I mustered up the courage to jump, four suited men walked into the room. They were impeccably dressed. This was an oddity among a group of about forty men and women in dirty, drab, clothes... some without shoes. The four suits all mumbled with a few guards and looked at me. One approached me and introduced himself as an "advocate." I noticed the other prisoners over his shoulder were shaking their heads to me indicating "no" as he approached me. They were clearly warning me. The advocate told me that we were in a great deal of trouble and he could help us for a fee. It was clear he was a crook, but I again considered the alternative. He explained that we were in danger but couldnt tell us what we did wrong or any details. He just told us we needed to see the "DA" if we wanted to get out, otherwise we could be there for months waiting for our turn.
Henry and I negotiated with the advocate and agreed to pay him $1000 to get us out of there. When we paid the advocate, we were moved into another room, alone. No furniture and nothing official. This is what our $1000 bought us. A separate room in the abandoned apartment with the doors and windows blown out.
We then began hearing yelling and beatings from the room we just left. This was the real deal. We were beside a room where human beatings were underway. Then, in an almost Fellini-esque twist, a lanky young Egyptian boy entered the room and offered the four of us a small cup of tea. This bright young boy seemed to be at the end of his innocence and for the momentary reprieve the tea gave me, I feared for this kid's future. I saw goodness in him. I saw an innocence that was being corrupted by the minute. It was a pity.
We sat in the room for a few more hours while the others were screamed at and beaten. I have no idea what happened or what was said to them. I did not see any of them again.
The tea boy visited one more time and offered tea. I noticed him staring at my watch. When he saw that I caught him staring he smiled with embarrassment and offered more tea. He was a good kid.
As it became dark, we were escorted down a hall and down one flight of stairs to a tiny room with a desk and television on the wall. We all sat on a single bench, below the wall-mounted television. I could see the image of the television above my head through the reflection in the picture on the wall I was facing. Interestingly the picture was of the Arabic word for The Qur'an. The television was playing a religious service in a mosque.
A recap: I am handcuffed in a makeshift office, in an abandoned apartment building with blown out walls, doors and windows. The television over my head is playing muslim prayer services as I watch it through the reflection of the Qur'an. I have been mildly beaten, witnessed beatings, starved, wrongfully imprisoned, and threatened at gunpoint for days. I have no idea where I am, nor does anyone else. My embassy has seemingly done nothing, and I wait for a mythical District Attorney to tell me what I've done and what my fate is.
Twenty minutes go by and in walks a thirtysomething average sized, average looking Egyptian man, in a suit. He appears to be the infamous DA. He barely acknowledges our existence as he steps over us to squeeze into his desk chair. He lights a cigarette and begins to rifle through the same journal looking stacks of paper as the police station seem to love. Another hour goes by and the only sound we've heard was the prayer service on the inexplicably loud television over my head, and the DA periodically asking questions about other cases on his desk, in Arabic, to the periodic guard who pops his head in.
Eventually, the DA looks at me and says, in perfect english, "What is your name?" I was relieved, furious, and sickened all at the same time, as we finally had eye contact. The rage I was containing over my treatment was only topped by the urgency of compliance to secure my release.
So I politely answered with my name.
He then, slowly and methodically began to ask all the same questions the first one-star asked us. He took notes, lit enough cigarettes to make R. J. Reynolds ecstatic, and paused periodically to watch the religious service over my head. As he questioned us, I was able to watch the paperwork shuffle on his desk a bit closer. Most was in Arabic, but I did see a form he filled out in western characters with his name; Moustafa Abdullatif.
DA Abdullatif asked what I did for a job. I was hardly going to mention journalism in any way, so I said I was a programmer. His eyes lit up. He pulled out an iPhone and asked if there was a way he could call someone, and have the caller ID display a different number. Astounded at the gall, I played along and said "sure!" I happened to have a phone number for our Skype account that had a generic outgoing message attached to it. I told him to call that number, and when he heard the message, to punch in the number he wanted to dial, then the number he wanted to display. My logic was that if I ever got out of this mess, I would have some kind of investigative leads to go on, to give to the authorities, if there were any.
Happily, Abdullatif obliged and began filling up my Skype voicemail with his number, all kinds of other numbers and as of the date of this report, is still trying to use the bogus number I gave him. He became too burdened with the paperwork before him, so he asked if I would write the numbers and access codes down so he could work on it later. He then asked me if I knew anything about getting college degrees in the US. I answered with the confidence of an expert, "of course!" He told me he wanted to get out of his existing job and get his masters in the United States, but he needed a scholarship. I told him there was one called a Pell Grant, knowing that this had nothing to do with foreign student aid, but it was remotely related to college tuition. It was all I could think of. I told him to email me all his information and I would send him the necessary forms.
He immediately did so. As of the date of this report, he continues to email me as if we're buddies, and requests Pell Grant information. I get updates from him on his health and work schedule, and all kinds of information. He's even been emailing Michael, the Ukrainian, about the possibility of any Ukrainian women that may have interest in him.
I asked why he wanted to leave his job, and he explained that this position he had, the "District Attorney" carried with it enormous power. So much power, he said, that it was a dream job, except for the money. He boasted that just a week ago, he sentenced two African women to three years in prison for overstaying their visa. He told me that the two women were staying in the cell right next to mine, back at the police station. He was so proud of this sentencing that he smiled as he explained the details of their fraud.
I nodded, and was sickened. More on this in a moment.
So, with all this new-found comradery, Abdullatif decided that we had grovelled enough and he was going to release us, if we all signed a confession... written in handwritten Arabic, of course. The alternative was to wait weeks for a trial.
We all signed confessions.
He then assured us we were released and all was well, but he would have to keep my $3000 camera as evidence. Fine. It was about 10:00 pm and we were escorted down the stairs of the apartment building. As we exited, I saw the tea boy and gave him my watch. This poor boy is more doomed than I.
We were to be un-handcuffed and released to Hamdy, waiting nearby. This was not the case. We were not unhandcuffed. In fact, we were returned to the metal box police vehicle where we sat for an hour with no explanation.
As a footnote, I was never searched. I still had my iPhone and despite the lack of service, it would still act as a camera. Earlier, I was weary of recording anything on my iPhone, for fear they'd take it, see that I was recording them, and make my life an even worse hell. But now, since I thought I was released, I tried to sneak a bit of video, as you see here.
We were brought back to the police station and told it would just be a minute or two until they finished the paperwork. As we entered the all-too-familiar lobby, we were unhandcuffed and asked to stand there. Hamdy appeared and greeted us. He then walked to the courtyard. Almost simultaneously, the four-star Policeman they called "The General" appeared in the lobby. He glared at us and screamed at nearby policeman. They immediately grabbed us, put us back in handcuffs, and marched us back through the courtyard and into the prison cells. No explanation and no release.
It was about midnight. Hours went by with no word and no communication. In the middle of the night, for no apparent reason, the cells were opened and we were all brought back into the courtyard, including the cell next to me, filled with seven women. I saw two African women, I assumed were the ones Abdulatiff spoke of. When it seemed safe, I asked, with the help of another prisoner, why these women were in prison. They responded they were there for three years because the police thought they forged their visa's. One of the women was holding a newborn. I was horrified to discover that the baby was born days earlier, in the cell, with no medical assistance whatsoever. These other woman have been assisting the "Visa Three" and it was clear that the child and two women were in very poor health.
Just as inexplicably as before, we were all whisked back into the cells about two hours later, and there we stayed until about 4:00 am. Henry had another meltdown. This time he threatened the lives of everyone, from The General, to the DA, to me and even president Mohamed Morsi himself.
Surprisingly, the door opened.
Hamdy appeared and explained that we have a new attorney, Taha Omar. He was from the travel agency Ahlan wa Sahlan that Hamdy was affiliated with. Our new attorney was going to fix everything, he said. We explained that everything was fixed, and we didn't need any attorney. He corrected us. We were quite wrong. We were no better off at this moment than we were the previous day. We had to deal with the General now. Hours of negotiation began. Endless questioning and waiting and negotiating back and forth between assorted police, plainclothes, Hamdy, Taha, and my colleagues. This resulted in the four of us giving our hotel keys and safe combinations to the police so they could go to our hotel rooms and appropriate all our money to pay our fines and secure our release.
Our hotel manager at the Mena House, happily obliged.
Once back in the lobby, still in handcuffs, we saw faxes between our hotel and the police on the General's desk. They included copies of our registration and passports. More astonishing that a fax even existed in this primeval cave, was the fact that the hotel now had complete knowledge of our incarceration and did nothing!
So the hotel did nothing, and the embassy did nothing.
Several thousand dollars later, all our cash and valuables depleted, cold, filthy, beaten, hungry, exhausted, sick, and humiliated beyond self-recognition, we were released.
It had been two days of complete hell, but it was not over. It was election day in Cairo. The Muslim Brotherhood, under the leadership of Mohamed Morsi, was now in the process of ramming his polarized constitution down the country's throat without sufficient process and the country was not having it. Protests, riots, arrests, and killings were now all around us and we had to pass through the city to get to the airport where we had no idea if we could even leave.
We literally ran from the police station, across the street to our hotel, decided to split up, and each found independent transportation to the airport. For security reasons, I am skipping the exit details, except to say we were assisted out of the city and eventually boarded flights out of Egypt, each to our respective destinations.
The current status of things: I have been in touch with the U.S. State Department where I have been profusely apologized to. Again, no apology was necessary from them, but I would like an explanation as to why I was left in jail with no assistance or communication. I have been assured by senior U. S. officials that they will sort it out and get back to me. I have no reason not to believe them and support them fully.
I have contacted Moshira Khattab, an acquaintance and Egypt's former Minister of Family and Population. She is looking into the safety and health of the "Visa three" incarcerated at the Giza jail, under Abdullatif and The General.
Let me remind you, we have obviously gone through appropriate security precautions and information editing to insure the safety and security of any innocent individuals involved with this report. I have also discussed this with senior State Department and Embassy personnel. I do not make this report without their knowledge, and again, I am not condemning them. This is a difficult time in Egypt and Egyptian people are good people. But this does not mean an unacceptable situation should go ignored.
I take no attention or respect away from the loss of Ambassador Stevens in Libya. My prayers still go out to him and every member of the Agency, military, and our government whose lives have been lost abroad. Hell, any time I hear of any senseless loss, my heart goes out. Wrong is never less-wrong. This incident in Cairo could have been my demise. It could have been me you were praying for.
It could have been you.
Think about that and do something.
The bottom line, people need to know what is happening in Egypt right now, aside from those who chose to become embattled in controversy, regardless of right or wrong. I look back a few years ago when my widow mother, a retired United States judge, visited the pyramids. This could have been her. This could be anyone. My good friend Miles Copeland, who was raised in Cairo, frequently says of communities who do wrong to innocent people; "Hit them where it hurts." So I say to my viewers and friends;
- Remain loyal to humanity.
- Don't turn a blind eye to this situation. Write or call your governmental representative and express your outrage over this Egypt-sanctioned treatment of US citizens, or any humans for that matter.
- Demand something be done about the "Visa Three" two imprisoned women and child being held at the Antiquities police station in Giza. For that matter, demand all detainee cases are independently examined by the UN.
- Do not support any form of Egyptian tourism until the Egyptian government can assure the globe of humane and ethical treatment for travelers... and everyone else for that matter.
- Keep religion and politics separate. No more church and state.
My friends, if you do nothing... if you take no action... if you just consume this information and move on... you are equally to blame. I survived. My colleagues survived. Ambassador Stevens didn't. These rape victims in India didn't. The children being shot up in schools didn't. The list of atrocities around the globe is endless, but I'll tell you one thing... like Matt Emerzian
says about every Monday, you matter. You can make a difference. If you write that letter or make that call or forward this episode, you are chipping away at the scourge that rob humanity of a peaceful existence.
Yes, it sounds a little preachy, and I suppose it may be a bit. But I pray it doesn't take a wake-up call like this for you to do a little something to make a change.
Here on Stipko Live there are downloads and links of everything you saw here, and resources for you to make a difference. Just do one thing, then pass it along. This whole "pay it forward" thing actually works. That's the real social media. Facebook and Twitter is for weenies.
I'm Aaron Stipkovich.