(photo credit: Courtesy)
Egypt is demanding the release of dozens of Egyptian prisoners in Israel in
return for Ilan Grapel, the American- Israeli law student detained in Cairo
since June on suspicion of spying for Jerusalem.
reported that a top-ranking Egyptian military official discussed an
Egyptian-Israeli prisoner exchange during US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s
visit to Cairo last week. The deal would reportedly include some 25 of the 80
Egyptians held in Israel, most of them convicted of security-related offenses or
border infiltration. The paper reported that some two dozen Egyptians could be
released from US prisons as well.
Egyptian media have reported that
Washington has threatened to reduce military aid to Egypt if Grapel remains
detained, but has indicated willingness to increase aid should the US-Israeli
dual citizen be released. Reports that Grapel could leave Cairo with the defense
secretary turned out to be premature.
US and Israeli officials, and
Grapel’s family and friends, have dismissed allegations of espionage as
“absurd,” and say the 27-year-old Emory University law student traveled to Egypt
to volunteer with an organization aiding African refugees.
Maj.-Gen. Sameh Seif
El-Yazel, described by Al-Ahram
as a security expert, said a prisoner exchange
could pave the way for discussions of modifying national security and armament
agreements between Egypt and Israel.
“[T]here is a desire by both sides
to hold a more critical dialogue about issues that were previously probed
infrequently,” he said. “It would not do Egypt any good to keep the spy behind
bars when there can be more benefits – this is standard procedure on such
matters in most countries.”
This weekend the daily quoted Mohamed Said
Lotfi, head of the campaign to free Egyptian prisoners from Israeli jails, as
saying Grapel should not be released but should be tried as a
“However, if he must be released, then the deal should be in return
for the release of all Egyptian prisoners in Israeli jails,” he
also reported that the son of Omar Abdel-Rahman (also
known as the “Blind Sheikh”) has filed a request for his father to be included
in a prospective exchange. Abdel- Rahman, leader of the radical group Al-Gama’a
al-Islamiyaa, is serving a life sentence in North Carolina for seditious
conspiracy for his part in planning and promoting a series of terrorist attacks on US targets.
On Monday the Islamist group held a protest
outside the American Embassy in Cairo calling for Abdel-Rahman’s
Last week Deputy Regional Development Minister Ayoob Kara asked
US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro to demand that along with Grapel, Cairo release
Ouda Tarabin, an Israeli Beduin shepherd held in Egypt for more than a decade
after illegally crossing the border.
“This is the last chance [to secure
Tarabin’s release] before the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. Everyone
knows what they will do and what his fate will be,” the Likud lawmaker
In 1999 Tarabin was sentenced under Egypt’s Emergency Law to 15
years in prison for espionage, a crime his family and the Israeli government say
he did not commit.
In 1996 Azzam Azzam, a Druse-Israeli textile worker,
was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor after being convicted of espionage, a
charge both he and the Israeli government denied. Following the
intervention of the Shin Bet, Azzam was released in 2004 in exchange for six
Egyptians convicted of planning terror attacks.