THE BLOG

My Husband's Been Detained in Egypt 320 Days Without Charge

06/04/2014 12:20 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:58 EDT
Sarah Attia

With Ontario election campaigns in full swing, I can't help but notice the stark difference between the energy behind political campaigns here in Canada and the empty polling stations in Egypt. Egyptians have stayed home in what appears to be a pointed message to the man who had already grabbed power for himself: given the foregone conclusion - General Sisi will be "elected" President - what use are votes that will serve as empty validations of his coup?

Election apathy is certainly nothing new in Canada. Of course, the phenomenon is not comparable to that in Egypt where a single man used the military to usurp power, arrest and incarcerate civil servants, and then run a sham election to feign legitimacy for his regime.

According to the Egyptian government's own estimates, over 16,000 people have been incarcerated during the crackdown that followed the military coup last July. The Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights puts those numbers closer to 20,000. These are vast numbers. Almost incomprehensible. But these numbers are real. I know this because out of the thousands of people who have been unjustly detained, one matters to me the most - my husband.

My name is Sarah Attia. I was born and raised in Canada and I am married to Khaled Al-Qazzaz, who is a permanent resident of Canada. He was just a few short months away from receiving Canadian citizenship May 10 marked our 10th anniversary. We have four children, and when any of them asks about their father, I am always at a loss for words.

Khaled has been detained in Egypt without charge for over 320 days. He is being held in the country's most notorious jail - Tora Prison. He is trapped for 23 hours of the day in solitary confinement, spending his time in a two meter by two meter insect-infested cell with blood stains on the walls. His health is quickly deteriorating.

If in 2011 you asked me how likely it was that Egypt could flourish as a healthy democracy, I would have shown you a picture of my husband and my eldest son, Abdelrahman, now eight, cheering among millions of other protesters in Egpyt's Tahrir Square. I would have told you that I was there too, demanding the resignation of a brutal dictator. When Hosni Mubarak finally stepped down, I would have told you that democracy no longer seemed like a dream - it was an attainable reality and it was at our fingertips.

I could never have imagined that just two years later I would be living this nightmare.

From the start, Khaled wanted to contribute to the democratic process. He was invited to work as the President's Secretary for Foreign Affairs for Egypt's first democratically elected President. Khaled's focus was on the improvement of human rights issues in Egypt. In a show of true irony, these are the very human rights protections that Khaled has been denied for almost one year.

Within days of massive street protests last summer, the military staged a coup leading to mass detentions of all those associated with the government. On July 3rd, Khaled's birthday, he never came home. After 10 months in detention without charge, I can no longer sit idly by and do nothing to help my husband. Khaled has committed no crimes.

Today, as a Canadian mother of four Canadian children, I am asking my fellow citizens to join me in my call on the government to speak up. I am calling for direct intervention to ensure Khaled's safety, to improve his conditions, and secure his release.

Already, 27 member nations of the UN, including the United States and the UK, have spoken out against human rights violations in Egypt. Where is Canada's voice? If our government can so adamantly take a stance against the recent coup in Thailand, how can it is by okay to not only remain silent, but actually lend credibility to Egypt's current regime where human rights atrocities flourish?

My children need their father more than I can explain. I need Khaled too. I especially need to know he is free and safe. It pains me to say that our youngest daughter, Tahrir, no longer recognizes her father.

It is appalling that the recent elections in Egypt are accepted as an attempt at democracy despite the continued human rights violations committed by the military. Minister Baird was very quick to issue statement calling the elections "a key step along Egypt's path to democracy." My husband's illegal detainment after his service as a relentless advocate for human rights and democracy is quite the stark contrast.

When I stand, ballot in hand, in a polling booth in Ontario this June, I will know that in some small way my voice matters. As I continue my campaign across Canada for my husband's freedom, I carry with me the voices of hundreds of other Canadians who have shown me their heartfelt support. My message is simple: "Please, help me bring my husband home."

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