As an American imprisoned in Egypt, Mustafa Kassem thought his government would rescue him from what he saw as his unjust incarceration. The 54-year-old auto parts dealer viewed his blue U.S. passport as a bulletproof vest that made him untouchable, especially in the hands of a government that receives billions in American aid, his relatives have said.
By the time he died Monday of apparent heart failure, after more than six years in jail with negligent medical care, Kassem’s faith in American power had broken down. Influential U.S. politicians called for his release but never applied any real pressure, such as the threat of sanctions. Egypt’s authoritarian leader, Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, after all is a key U.S. ally.
Finally, Kassem saw no choice but to go on a hunger strike in September 2018. In a letter smuggled out of prison at the time, he begged President Trump to help him, noting they were fellow New Yorkers. “I am putting my life in your hands,” wrote the father of two small children.
His death raises questions about the ability of the Trump administration to help as many as a half-dozen Americans still inside Egyptian jails, the vast majority for flimsy reasons, according to human rights activists — not to mention the thousands of other political detainees experiencing similarly poor conditions. There are more than 300 prisoners currently on hunger strike. [Continue reading…]