Egypt confirms one German detained, another unaccounted for | News | DW | 09.01.2019
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Egypt confirms one German detained, another unaccounted for

Germany's Foreign Ministry has announced that Egyptian authorities confirmed they have taken a 23-year-old German student into custody. Another missing 18-year-old German's whereabouts are unknown.

German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adelbahr confirmed Wednesday that 23-year-old German-Egyptian student Mahmoud Abdel Aziz (pictured above) "is in the custody of Egyptian authorities." The student was detained on December 27 at Cairo airport.

The man, who hails from the northern German city of Göttingen, was traveling with his brother Malik at the time he was detained. The men are both enrolled in the Islamic studies program in Saudi Arabian Medina and were en route to visit their grandparents.

Adelbahr said German authorities were "trying very intensively to get access" to Aziz, but have not yet been able to see him. Thus far, no reason has been given for the man's arrest.

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No such thing as dual citizenship in Egypt's eyes

Malik Abdel Aziz, speaking with DW, said, "When we arrived, an official stamped my passport and said I was free to go on. But my brother Mahmoud was told to wait."

The two men waited for several hours before they were split up. Malik said that was the last time he saw his brother.

Malik Abdel Aziz said he thought that his brother would simply fly back to Medina if he was not allowed to enter the country. Malik Abdel Aziz decided to proceed to his grandparents' house in Cairo, where the two were to stay for nine days and wait for word from his brother. He said he "contacted the embassy in Cairo" after not hearing from Mahmoud.

The men, whose mother is German and father is Egyptian, have both German and Egyptian passports. Egypt, however, does not recognize dual citizenship and treats such dual passport holders as Egyptian citizens. This fact makes it difficult for foreign consulates to gain information and access to detained persons who are citizens of their own countries.

Read more: Egypt arrests 19 rights activists, lawyers: Amnesty

Missing without a trace

Similarly, 18-year-old Isa El Sabbagh from the central German city of Giessen is also a dual passport holder with a German mother and Egyptian father. He disappeared in Luxor on December 17, en route to Cairo to visit his grandfather. The German Foreign Ministry said its Cairo embassy is still attempting to determine his whereabouts.

El Sabbagh's father told DW that he texted his son to find out how he was, but never got a reply. Although he said the text had been read he is unsure by whom.

"I'm going crazy. I fear that he may have been kidnapped and that something bad has happened to him," El Sabbagh's father said. "I almost hope he is in prison now. Because then at least I would know that he is still alive."

Isa El Sabbegh has not been seen since he entered the transit zone at Luxor airport.

Missing German citizen Isa El Sabbagh (left), seen here with his father and brother in Giessen (privat)

German citizen Isa El Sabbagh (left), seen here with his father and brother in Giessen, has been missing since December 17

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Who is telling the truth?

According to the NGO Human Rights Watch, some 60,000 people have been detained as political prisoners or "disappeared" since Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi came to power in 2014. Most of those individuals were detained due to work with human rights organizations, which are a thorn in the side of the el-Sissi government. The president claimed there are no political prisoners in Egypt.

The families of both missing Germans say their sons were not political and that they have no idea why they would have been detained.

Isa El Sabbagh's family member said they fear the young man may have suffered the same fate as Italian student Giulio Regeni. He was conducting research on labor unions as part of his doctoral thesis when he disappeared in Cairo in January 2016. His beaten body was found discarded by the side of the road nine days after his disappearance. The story around his fate has been fluid, though Egyptian authorities continue to deny any involvement.

Frustrated by the pace of the investigation, Italian authorities have begun conducting their own investigation and accuse Egyptian intelligence services of having murdered the young man.

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