Ayman Hadhud: The suspicious disappearance and death of an Egyptian economist clouds the regime’s campaign to clean its image | International

A street in Cairo, in April 2020.
A street in Cairo, in April 2020.Nariman El-Mofty (AP)

Ayman Hadhud, a 48-year-old Egyptian economist who is critical of government policy, stayed for dinner on February 5 with his brother Omar in the Doki neighborhood of Cairo. They were there together until nine at night. Ayman Hadhud, who was also a member of a small liberal party, was an organized person and did not usually come home after midnight. So when the clock struck two or three in the morning, and since he did not appear, his family contacted Omar, who spent the rest of the night calling him without success, as he himself explained to EL PAÍS . In the morning, the economist’s cell phone was switched off.

Three days after Hadhud’s trail was lost, an officer from the National Security Agency, one of the three main arms of the Egyptian security forces, showed up at the family’s home and asked for a relative to visit them at the police station. There they interrogated him and confirmed that the economist remained in detention, although he could not be visited. The family, however, chose not to report or make the case public, fearing that it could be counterproductive and trusting that the mediation of their well-connected environment could help solve the case.

Through these informal channels, his family and friends discovered in mid-February that Hadhud had been transferred to a psychiatric hospital in Cairo, where they were initially assured that he was in good health, although they were not allowed to visit him because he was in a sector supervised by the police. The family then requested permission from the Prosecutor’s Office, but the latter denied having information, after which the hospital also denied that the economist was there.

On April 4, a friend received a call from someone inside the hospital saying that Hadhud had been dead since March 5. Upon receiving the news, his entourage decided make public your demise. And only then, when the case had spread, did the police finally call the family to notify them of the economist’s death.

Incomplete and inconsistent versions

Since the news of his death in custody broke, the Prosecutor’s Office and the Ministry of the Interior have closed ranks: they deny having any responsibility for what happened. But human rights organizations, local media and politicians have noted that their versions of events are incomplete and inconsistent. Hadhud’s death and the irregularities of the security forces, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the psychiatric hospital in handling the case come only months after Cairo launched a campaign in September to supposedly improve its human rights record. Organizations in Egypt and abroad, however, have repeatedly denounced the campaign as nothing more than a whitewashing operation.

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Ayman Hadhoud, in a Twitter image.
Ayman Hadhoud, in a Twitter image.

“The way the authorities have handled Ayman Hadhud’s case is really a stark testament to how unserious they are when it comes to improving human rights,” said Hussein Baoumi, North Africa Researcher at Amnesty International, what has investigated the case. “The Prosecutor’s Office, the Ministry of the Interior, the president, Parliament. Everyone had the opportunity in this case to do things right, to investigate properly, ”he notes.

The gaps exist in almost every part of the case: from the reason for the arrest to the date of death, through the treatment received by the police, the transfer to the psychiatric hospital and the treatment provided there. In this line, the Prosecutor’s Office admitted in a first statement on April 12 that she had been notified of Hadhud’s death on March 5. And it was not until a week later, on April 18, that she stated in a second statement that the forensic examination had determined that the cause of death had been chronic heart disease.

However, the public ministry did not clarify why the autopsy took a month and a half to perform. An investigation middle egyptian Al Manassa, citing multiple sources from the hospital where Hadhud died, states that his death was the result of medical negligence given the rapidly deteriorating state of health of the economist. His brother, Omar, assures that he did not suffer from any chronic heart disease.

In addition, photos of his body, taken after the autopsy and leaked, show sufficient evidence to suspect that Hadhud did not die on March 5, but at a later date, according to EL PAÍS Derrick Pounder, a forensic pathologist who has spent more than 30 years working selflessly for Amnesty International and who examined the images. “The condition of the body, even if it was refrigerated, is too good, too well preserved, to have been dead for a month,” Pounder says.

On the other hand, the Prosecutor’s Office affirmed that Hadhud’s body did not present injuries that suggest that he was tortured or ill-treated, something that Pounder denies. “It is very clear that there are bruises on the surface of the skin. The skin surface is broken on the left side of the face, at least a dozen times, and there are multiple bruises on both forearms,” he observes. Omar points out that the authorities had even issued a burial license in a cemetery for unidentified people, which he believes was intended to allow time for the body to deteriorate.

On the reason for the arrest, the Ministry of the Interior and the Public Prosecutor’s Office have offered at least two versions, and at all times they have stressed that he suffered from psychological problems. Her entourage, on the other hand, recognizes that recently her mental health had worsened, but they believe that this element is being used to confuse. “The Prosecutor’s Office is simply giving the green light for the murderers to do what they want,” criticizes the victim’s brother, who assures that the Prosecutor’s Office has so far refused to hand over the forensic report and the case file.

Hadhud’s case has also caused particular alarm because he was a prominent member of the Reform and Development Party, whose president, Mohamed Anwar El Sadat, is a member of the National Human Rights Council, a body formed by the government as part of the previous human rights campaign. Sadat has also established himself in the last year as a prominent mediator with the security forces and the Prosecutor’s Office to ensure the release of at least dozens of Egyptian political prisoners.

“Everyone is looking for the truth. We have to know who has been behind it, we have to hold whoever is responsible, ”says EL PAÍS Sadat, who prefers to focus on the hospital. “The prosecutor has taken a position, agreed; but we still have a hospital that is a disaster. A hospital where we need to know what is going on inside and who is responsible. And not just for Ayman, but also for others.”

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