Washington confirms immunity of former Egyptian PM

US says it will continue pressing Cairo on human rights but says Beblawi is immune from prosecution after lawsuit by an Egyptian-American claimant.
Wednesday 07/04/2021
2014 file photo, then Egyptian interim Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi, right, speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. (AFP)
2014 file photo, then Egyptian interim Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi, right, speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. (AFP)

WASHINGTON - US President Joe Biden’s administration said Tuesday it would keep pressing Egypt on human rights but it confirmed immunity against prosecution for former Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi.

Mohamed Soltan, a US-Egyptian citizen, filed the lawsuit saying he was “nearly killed” during two years in prison after then general Abdel Fattah Sisi took power in 2013.

Under a US law for torture victims, Soltan filed a lawsuit last year against Beblawi, who was prime minister in 2013 and 2014 and later served as Egypt’s representative to the International Monetary Fund in Washington.

In a filing submitted last week, the US government said that Beblawi left his IMF position on October 31 but that Soltan presented the lawsuit in June when he still was immune from US laws.

The former prime minister’s “change of status has no effect,” acting assistant attorney general Brian Boynton wrote, “because plaintiff claims to have served (Beblawi) while he enjoyed diplomatic agent status.”

Soltan’s case has come under renewed attention as he said that authorities have harassed his relatives in Egypt, apparently as retaliation for the lawsuit.

The Biden administration has voiced concern for Soltan’s relatives as well as others who have been imprisoned or reportedly harassment in Egypt.

“We continue to seek to promote a stable and prosperous Egypt where, importantly, the government protects the rights of all individuals,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, while declining comment on the court filing.

Biden has vowed to make human rights a top priority including with close allies — in a change of policy from former president Donald Trump who saw his alliance with Sisi on strategic issues as reason to mute criticism of the Egyptian regime on rights concerns.

Biden has however approved nearly $200 million in missiles for Egypt, but the State Department said the sale was a routine refurbishment of equipment for sea defenses.

Muslim Brotherhood members did not conceal their hope that the arrival of the Democrats to the White House would usher in a new US policy that would boost their chances of reconciliation with Egyptian authorities. There has bee no tangible evidence of the likelihood of such as a shift.

In fulfillment of his election campaign pledges, Biden has modified the US administration’s discourse on relations with Middle East allies, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia. However, he has not introduced a major reset in US-Middle East relations.