Prison Ministry Cairo, Support the Maras Family

Sent On: 
Mon, 2018-11-12
Newsletter Number: 


Leslie Maras in 2005


On February 24, 2006, Belgian national Leslie Maras arrived at Cairo Airport with cocaine in capsules in his stomach. He was later sentenced to life in prison in Egypt. Interns and friends of the Center for Arab-West Understanding, as well as members of the prison ministries of churches in Egypt, have visited him numerous times in prison and today we find a man who is deeply aware of the mistakes he has made in 2006.


Leslie’s parents are deeply suffering. They are old and sick and are living on a very meagre pension. They are from a working-class background and have neither the funding nor the network to help their son. Nor do they have English, French or Arabic language skills. They are only able to come once per year to Egypt to visit their son in prison. On Friday November 16, mother Maras will speak in St. John the Baptist Church in Maadi about the plight of her son. I will be translating for her. This will be mother’s heart speaking.


During past years the Maras parents always came during their visit to St. John the Baptist Church. In November 2015, Rev. Dr. Michael Dobson, Rector of St. John the Baptist Church, asked me to help the family as much as possible. This has set me on a discovery tour to what the background of this prisoner was and what could be done to help.


In the years prior to his arrival to Egypt, Leslie was involved in marital problems and debts. He came from a good family and was not at all involved in any criminal activities, including trading drugs. Due to these marital problems he accumulated debts, and in 2005 he followed the advice of some people in the Netherlands and Belgium to swallow capsules and bring them to another country for money. Leslie had absolutely no idea what he was getting himself into. Swallowing capsules is a very risky thing to do. If even one or two such capsules broke, the person who had swallowed them would be in serious health troubles and could even die. Thus, no major drug dealer would ever do this him or herself. They would leave the risky capsule swallowing to those who need the money for various reasons.


Egyptian laws against drug trading are very harsh. The sentence against Leslie Maras was indeed correct. If he had been Egyptian he would have received the same sentence. Thus, Egyptian authorities do not distinguish between Egyptian and non-Egyptian traders. President al-Sisi [al-Sīsī] has in the past years given tens of prisoners pardon, but the law prohibits pardon for people sentenced for drugs trading. Leslie was not aware of any of this before he came to Egypt.


In Egypt prisoners are expected to receive support for food from their families. Thus, prior to arriving in prison, one sees long lines of people with large bags of food for the prisoners being visited. Most foreign prisoners have no such family support. For this reason, the Maras family is paying the Belgian Embassy in Cairo to provide Leslie with food. For this reason St. John the Baptist Church and the Maadi Community Church both have a prison ministry, encouraging members of church to visit prisoners. The rule in Egypt is that Egyptians can visit both Egyptian and foreign prisoners while non-Egyptians are only allowed to visit non-Egyptian prisoners. That makes sense of course.


A sentence to life means in Egypt 25 years. With good behavior in prison this could be reduced to 20 years. Leslie is imprisoned in Qanater [al-Qanāṭir], one of the best prisons in Egypt. However, that said, being in prison is still no fun. Prisoners are locked up in small rooms with bunk beds, sometimes with 15 or more in one room. Between roughly 10.00 am and 4.00 pm prisoners can go outside, engage in sport activities, handicrafts, painting (as Leslie does), cooking and other activities that prison authorities allow. Leslie became one of the leaders of the church in prison. They meet for Bible study and prayer and encouraging other prisoners to live with the sentences they have received.



            Art made by Leslie


We have looked into what can be done for Leslie. This is, first of all, visits to prison. One can take food and books with them to the prison and give him encouragement. You can also make a donation to the family for food packages, as these costs are truly a heavy load for the family to bear.


Secondly, former Egyptian MP Dr. George Messiha [George Massīḥa] pointed us in the direction of prison exchange treaties. Egypt has this with different countries including the UK, Canada, Spain, Malta and India but not with Belgium. Each such treaty is different and negotiated bilaterally between Egypt and another country.  A treaty means that certain categories of prisoners can be exchanged on certain conditions between the two countries which, for the prisoners concerned means that they can complete their Egyptian sentence in their home country, and the Egyptian prisoner abroad can complete his sentence in Egypt. This is much more humane for prisoners in countries that are not their own since in their home country visits by family members will be so much easier. This is what we hope for: that Egypt and Belgium negotiate for a treaty between the two countries, which could bring Leslie home.


If this is an issue that speaks to your heart come and meet with mother Maras in St. John the Baptist Church after the church service on Friday November 16, 10.00 am. The church can be seen from the well-known Port Said street and is located on the corner of street 17 with street 82.




Cairo, November 12, 2018


Cornelis Hulsman, coordinating prison visits for St. John the Baptist Church, Maadi, Cairo.