CAIRO — The Egyptian authorities have released economist Abdel Khalek Farouk and his publisher pending a probe into alleged "fake news" in Farouk's new book, "Is Egypt Really a Poor Country?”
Authorities had arrested Farouk on Oct. 21, a week after they seized copies of his book at Al-Ittihad Printing Press in Cairo and arrested its owner, Ibrahim al-Khatib. Khatib has also been released pending the investigation.
Officials said the book is critical of a speech Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi delivered on Jan. 28, 2017, at Egypt's World Youth Forum conference. Sisi said during the speech that Egypt is “a very poor country.”
Naglaa Salama, Farouk’s wife, told Al-Monitor by phone that Farouk indeed said in 2017 he was working on a book to respond to “Sisi’s allegations” regarding poverty in Egypt.
She said three officers came to their house Oct. 21 and took her husband to El-Shorouk police station, where he was detained. The public prosecutor’s office in Cairo's southern district of Zainham began investigating the next day, she said.
Her husband was initially accused of not having a permit for the book, she said, but lawyers from the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) who attended the investigations contacted her to ask for the official permits. Salama subsequently sent them papers proving that the book had a permit, an official registration number and an ISBN.
She noted that the public prosecutor's office discussed the contents of the book and asked Farouk about his sources. Her husband, she said, replied that he had relied on official information issued by several governmental bodies. Still, he was charged with publishing and possessing false news.
Asked about the book, Salama said it consists of 27 chapters and answers controversial questions currently being raised in Egypt, such as how the country's oil wealth is managed and how much Egypt lost in gas contracts with Israel and Jordan. Egypt supplied Israel with natural gas in 2010 at below-market prices.
She also said the book discusses human resources and population density in Egypt, how the new administrative capital was funded, and addresses questions about alleged corruption and public money squandering.
“Before his arrest, Farouk wrote on his official Facebook page … that the book doesn't insult anyone but discusses the economic crisis in numbers and facts,” she added.
After the book was confiscated, Farouk shared it online and called on his Facebook friends to download it and read it.
ANHRI director Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer, told Al-Monitor the measures taken by the authorities are arbitrary and intrinsically related to a broader goal of fighting research in Egypt, and not just politics. On Dec. 20, 2016, state security authorities had closed the ANHRI Al-Karama library chain.
Authorities claimed they closed the chain because it lacked the required licenses, but many thought the real reason was that ANHRI criticized the state's performance.
Eid said that Farouk’s detention is not the first of its kind, and will not be the last. The Egyptian cultural and research arena witnessed several trials and political arrests in recent years. Such cases included Raed Salama, an economic researcher; Ismail al-Iskandarani, a researcher specializing in Islamic groups affairs; and Hisham Jaafar, a journalist and board chairman of the MADA Foundation for Media Development.
“While Jaafar was arrested on Oct. 22, 2015, he remains in illegal custody until this very day. Also, an Egyptian military court ordered the detention of Iskandarani on May 23 for 10 years on charges of writing several articles about the security conditions in the Sinai Peninsula," Eid noted.
He added that the state’s campaign is ongoing and rife with other examples. Egyptian authorities arrested Salama on Aug. 23 on charges of broadcasting false news in cooperation with a group calling for the disruption of the constitution and the law.
Under Egyptian law, individuals who spread false news shall be sentenced to prison for a maximum of one year, and fined 5,000-20,000 Egyptian pounds ($280-$1,116).
Eid denounced the brutal campaign against researchers and pointed out that the Egyptian state has honored Farouk on more than one occasion. Farouk received Egypt’s State Award in Economic and Legal Sciences in 2003 as well as the 2015 Cairo Book Fair Best Book Award in Social Sciences. He also worked as an adviser to the minister of manpower and immigration in 2013.
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