Philip Rizk. His banner says: "We’ve had enough! Open the Rafah Border Crossing!" Photo Middle East Times, www.metimes.com/index.php
German-Egyptian journalist, blogger and humanitarian activist Philip Rizk, a friend of Christianity Today, has been released to his family in Cairo today, just in time for 27th birthday.
It is remarkable that the Egyptian media with the exception of al- Dustūr, al-Misrī al-Yawm and the Egyptian Gazette, has not paid more attention to this arrest while Christianity Today, the New York Times, Middle East Times, Reuters, AP, Der Spiegel, Reformatorisch Dagblad and of course bloggers, and many others have given Philip Rizk’s arrest a lot of attention. That shows how differently Egyptian readers are informed about events in Egypt from readers outside Egypt. Not that foreign reporting about Egypt is always that great. There are mistakes made, the context is often not known or facts are misrepresented. But having a near media black-out in Egypt and reporting practically only outside Egypt does not create much trust in the independence of most Egyptian media.
Philip Rizk was arrested on Friday February 6 during a march he helped to organize from Cairo to Gaza, protesting at the siege of Gaza, and at Egypt closing the border to Gaza not only to people but also to humanitarian goods such as medicine.
The march Philip helped organize defied explicit orders from the Egyptian security not to organize a march to call for the opening of the border between Gaza and Egypt. Earlier a committee from the Egyptian medical syndicate wanted to organize this protest march but was told by Egyptian police that they were not allowed to do so. Of course, the march was a clear critique of the Egyptian authorities for closing the Gaza-Egyptian border. A complicating factor was that the Egyptian medical syndicate is controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that is officially banned in Egypt but nevertheless is able to organize many activities. Organizing a march that initially had been proposed by the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated medical syndicate was bound to trigger the ire of Egyptian security authorities.
Philip’s involvement in Gaza is understood. He lived in Gaza from 2005 and 2007 where he was involved with the local Baptist church. Since then Philip has been deeply involved in seeking humanitarian support for the people in Gaza and he did not want to distinguish between victims on the basis of faith or political conviction. That might be why he did not care that his march was initially proposed by the Egyptian medical syndicate.
A German diplomat who had met with Rizk some time before his arrest described him as a nice, very idealistic and engaged young man who was not politically involved.
According to an article in Christianity Today Philip’s “release comes in the wake of protests in front of Egyptian embassies worldwide, many organized by former classmates at Wheaton College.” AP credits his release to an outpouring of media reporting. It has all the appearance, one Western diplomat said, that Egyptian authorities have totally miscalculated the effects of arresting a young man campaigning for humanitarian support to Gaza. The protests certainly have done a lot of damage, the same diplomat said, to Egypt’s image in many Western countries but in particular in Germany and the US.
The anger following Philip’s arrest focused on several points including:
Neither the family nor the Germany Embassy in Cairo were officially informed about the reasons for his arrest.
Police officers tried to search the house of Philip’s father Majīd without having or being willing to show a warrant for this to his father or his lawyer. House searches without warrants are also illegal in Egypt.
Questioning Egypt’s decision to stop relief goods from entering Gaza from the Egyptian-Gaza border.
Freedom to demonstrate
Security not providing information about the reasons of the arrest
From the moment of Philip’s arrest, the German Embassy in Cairo has been involved, trying to obtain formal reasons from the Egyptian authorities about this arrest. They have not obtained this. Nor was anyone able to speak to Philip for four days, not his family, not a lawyer and not a representative from the embassy.
The Egyptian human rights activist Ra’id al-Sharqawi refers to the criminal procedures act of 1957 that makes it possible for the Egyptian security to arrest someone for four days without informing either their family or a lawyer. These four days are used by the District Attorney to investigate the person involved in the case. An arrest can be renewed for another four days, then three times for 15 days and twice for 45 days. Those decisions for renewal must be made by a judge. No one can be held longer than this period of 143 days without a clear conviction. The problem with this procedure is that the law does not oblige the security authorities in the entire period to provide any information as to why someone is being investigated.
The Egyptian security searched Philip Rizk’s house and took papers and equipment. They also wanted to search the house of his father Majīd but because the responsible officer could not show a warrant to either the lawyer of the family or Majīd, he refused to let them do so. Al-Sharqawi says according to Egyptian law it is illegal to search a house without a warrant. When this happens a judge must reject the request to extend confinement because incorrect procedures have been employed.
Humanitarian help to Gaza from Egypt
The discussion about Rizk’s arrest is important because it addresses the possibility or impossibility of providing private humanitarian help to Gaza through the border between Gaza and Egypt. Egypt is planning to host a conference on rebuilding Gaza in Cairo and the Egyptian government has provided aid but is obviously hesitant about aid also being provided through private initiatives. That in turn seems to be related to strong Islamist activities in seeking humanitarian aid for Gaza.
Philip, upon his release, requested on his facebook page and the Christianity Today website “that all upcoming planned protests and marches still take place to end the siege on Gaza.”
Freedom to demonstrate
Amnesty International writes that Philip’s arrest is a “recurring story in Egypt, where the government is suspicious of any popular movement or demonstration that exists outside of their control.”
Poor government responses
Philip organized his march with a group of only 14 young people. His arrest has garnered attention for his march that he would never have achieved if he had not been arrested. His arrest has also resulted in discussions about humanitarian aid to Gaza and human rights in Egypt that would not have happened without his arrest. Egyptian security authorities have thus done his case a great favor that in all likelihood was completely unintended.
The story shows the poor calculations and responses of the Egyptian authorities concerning the effects of hampering activities that many people in and outside Egypt sympathize with. Not or insufficiently considering the consequences of media reporting in the West results in Egypt’s poor image in the West. That is a shame and is also something that is not needed. A lot of the reporting about the arrest of Philip Rizk was highly emotional and often not accurate or lacking context. Egyptian authorities could have avoided a lot of this negative media fall-out by immediately providing the official reasons for Philip’s arrest. They could also have responded immediately with information about government aid to Gaza and why they are so cautious about private aid to Gaza. Instead the authorities and most Egyptian media outlets chose to remain silent, thus making them co-responsible for the negative reporting that we have now seen about Egypt.
If Egypt wants to avoid negative publicity as many officials say they do, then they should consider changing the criminal procedures act, providing relatives of people who are arrested with reasons for their arrest and regulating aid from non- government initiatives, not stopping citizens from seeking humanitarian support for Gaza.
Selected reporting on the internet:
Article by Philip Rizk on Gaza: