Free Grapel!

Egypt should hear from all democracies that it stands to lose a lot if it persists in profiteering from wrongful arrest.

Ilan Grapel_311 (photo credit: Channel 10 News)
Ilan Grapel_311
(photo credit: Channel 10 News)
From the very outset, the arrest in Cairo last June on espionage charges of Ilan Grapel – a 27-year-old Israeli-American student – was highly suspect. Ordinary Egyptians, both before the so-called Arab Spring and in its aftermath, avidly imbibed any variety of tall tales – no matter how improbable – about Israeli spying, subterfuge and malfeasance.
Last December, government sources circulated cockand- bull stories about continuous Israeli attempts to sabotage tourism to Egypt by dispatching sharks to attack swimmers at Sharm e-Sheikh. This fit well into the mold that produced fanciful allegations about Israelis injecting toxins into chewing gum, confectionery and fresh produce sold in Egypt.
Such predilection for fabrication should make the latest charges trumped up against Grapel quite unsurprising.
According to Egypt’s state-run Al-Ahram newspaper, the list of accusations against Grapel has now been padded by contentions that he fire-bombed police stations and the Egyptian Interior Ministry.
Significantly, these additional charges follow the visit to Cairo by US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who pressed for Grapel’s release. Panetta left empty-handed and observers believe he was rebuffed because he failed to promise a high enough reward to Egypt’s caretaker regime.
The Americans have reportedly threatened Egypt with military aid reduction but concomitantly offered a carrot in the shape of financial incentives and greater diplomatic support in exchange for Grapel’s freedom.
Yet on September 5, when Panetta’s visit had already been scheduled but before his arrival, an Egyptian court remanded Grapel for 45 more days. This was considered a signal to the Americans. In other words, Cairo was upping the ante.
Now, also according to Al-Ahram, Egypt is demanding in return for Grapel the release of over 80 Egyptian prisoners in Israel – many held on security charges and/or for border infiltration.
Regardless of precise details, a highly perturbing picture is gradually emerging. Official Egypt is conducting negotiations to win some sort of prize for Grapel. This puts Egypt in the same league as other Mideastern hostage-takers.
No one gives any credence to the assertions that Grapel was a spy or an agent provocateur. He in fact uploaded photos and extensive details of his visit to Egypt on Facebook, hardly in keeping with the veil of secrecy that accompanies bona fide intelligence agents. Grapel is an innocent who was nabbed unjustly and is now plainly held to ransom.
What makes this so much worse than the garden-variety hostage sagas that our region spawns sporadically is the fact that no one can blame this travesty on a rogue terrorist outfit.
In most instances that claim is anyhow false. Gilad Schalit, held for more than five years in Gaza, isn’t beyond the reach of Gaza’s Hamas overlords; they are the ones conducting the protracted negotiations for the price of his freedom. Yet at least the Gazan cover story is that Schalit is the captive of an insubordinate Islamist offshoot.
No such pretexts are proffered for Cairo’s bizarre conduct.
What we have here is a large, well-established, sovereign state that allows itself essentially to abduct an innocent tourist and hold him until someone pays a high enough ransom.
Not only is such conduct unconscionable and fundamentally unacceptable for a state, but it could complicate the situation immeasurably as ransom demands whet appetites and the bargaining process can result in evermutating conditions.
Bleak assessments are underscored by the ongoing restlessness and violence in Egypt. Its current rulers need to fend off criticism by appearing ultra-patriotic, which means not appearing to back down on the Grapel case.
These same generals can only gain prestige and rake in political capital by showing that they squeezed an impressive quid pro quo before letting Grapel go.
The international community, which has done next to nothing for Schalit, ought to wake up and protest Grapel’s treatment. What was tolerated from Gaza cannot conceivably be countenanced in Egypt’s case.
Egypt should hear from all democracies that it stands to lose a lot if it persists in profiteering from wrongful arrest.
For one thing, state-sponsored hostage-taking can do tourism to Egypt far greater harm than fictional Israeli sharks.