Michigan Mother Asks U.S. Officials: ‘Help Free My Son’
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Beba Wassef recalls that their whole neighborhood in Detroit celebrated when she, her husband, Yussef, and their sons, Samir and Sami, became Americans 16 years ago.
″I remember the food. I remember there were a lot of Egyptians and Americans,″ she said. ″But most of all, I remember the excitement on the boys’ faces when they helped hoist a huge American flag in the backyard.″
Samir was 14, Sami 10.
Today, Samir, now 30, is a Michigan pediatrician, and Sami, 26, is a 1988 graduate of Cairo University’s Medical School.
But Sami has had to postpone career plans. He has spent the past 8 1/2 months in an Egyptian prison and was formally charged only three weeks ago. An Egyptian court says he is an American spy.
On July 20, Mrs. Wassef listened as Prosecutor General Aly Hawari accused her sons of being CIA agents.
He said the brothers sold Nicholas Edward Reynolds, also accused of spying for the United States, information on Islamic fundamentalism and other non- military issues. They were found guilty of passing on more information than they could have learned from newspapers about economic problems, religious fundamentalism and tensions between Egypt’s majority Moslems and Coptic Christians.
The court said nothing specific about how the information was obtained or allegedly passed on. Nor did it indicate that Egypt’s national security was damaged.
All three men were convicted, but only Sami was in Egypt and only Sami is in jail.
Mrs. Wassef has spent much of this year in her native Egypt seeking help for Sami. Both say the prosecutor’s charge is absurd.
She said her sons reported on non-military topics to a man they knew as ″Tony,″ gleaning the information mostly from a local English-language newspaper. They were told it would appear in Cairo Today, an English-language magazine aimed at expatriates in the Egyptian capital, she said.
Not only is Sami not a spy, Mrs. Wassef said, but ″he was such a bad reporter that Tony fired him for giving him only nonsense. That was more than two years ago.
″If the Egyptians really wanted to find a spy, they surely could do it inside the American Embassy,″ she said.
″Sami is an American. He entered Egypt on his American passport. And nobody - not the embassy, not the State Department, not the White House - nobody has helped him. We’ve contacted all of them.
″Maybe if he’d been a spy, they might have helped him.″
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Marcelle Wahba only would comment that ″The American Embassy has done everything it can for Mrs. Wassef and her son. We offer to all Americans normal consular services.″
Mrs. Wassef said Consul General Conrad Drescher first visited her son Dec. 8, three weeks after plainclothes security men arrested him. By that time Wassef had signed a 253-page confession, written in Arabic, which his mother says he can barely read.
His medical courses and textbooks were in English.
Wassef told his mother that investigators fabricated much of his confession. He signed it, he said, because he was told his luggage and an airline ticket to the United States were ″just outside the door″ if he cooperated.
He and his mother claim to have been told the case was prosecuted in order to facilitate the release of Abdelkader Helmy, an Egyptian-born American rocket scientist who has pleaded guilty in Sacramento, Calif., to charges he illegally procured military technology in the United States.
During the eight months that Wassef was held without charge, U.S. officials never mentioned the case publicly.
However, the Wassefs’ congressman has been working on it privately, even to approaching Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
″We’re doing everything possible to help Sami Wassef,″ an aide to Rep. William S. Broomfield, R-Mich., said in Washington. ″We’re very concerned about health conditions in the prison.″
Mrs. Wassef said that in March, four months after her son’s arrest and four months before he was charged, Broomfield slipped Mubarak a note about the case while the Egyptian leader was on an official visit to the United States. Nothing happened.
Although appeals remain possible, Mrs. Wassef said Mubarak represents her son’s only hope. She said U.S. Ambassador Frank G. Wisner, whom she visited after the verdict, told her to be patient and promised to try and get her an audience with the Egyptian president.
The Wassef family is Christian. Reynolds told friends in Egypt he worked with Sobek Travel, which has offices in Oakland and Angel’s Camp, Calif.
In Angels Camp, John Yost, a Sobek owner, said Reynolds worked two or three years ago as a consultant for a film company associated with the tour group.
He said he never met Reynolds, didn’t know where he was from and doesn’t know where he is now. Yost gave Reynold’s parents hometown as Chevy Chase, Md.
Summing up after a 90-minute trial, Hawari urged the three judges to ″have no mercy,″ to make the Wassefs ″an example to others.″
Each brother was sentenced to 10 years and a fine. Reynolds was fined and sentenced to five years.
″They had Sami in a cage in the courtroom. All he could do was stand there and hold onto the wires and shout that he was innocent,″ Mrs. Wassef said.
″I can’t sleep. When I close my eyes, I see his face in the cage.″