Sunday, December 18, 2011

Letters from Egypt: US Embassy Refuses to Help a Jailed American

Register with the State Department, they say. For emergencies, contact such and such number, they say. What the US Embassy in Cairo doesn’t say: We will fail to help any American citizen in need unless it makes national headlines in the US and forces us to act accordingly.

Local news editor for Bikya Masr Joseph Mayton was arrested Saturday, December 17 and held and beaten for 14 hours. Mayton and his wife relocated to an apartment overlooking Tahrir Square. When Mayton’s wife contacted the US Embassy, they refused to help. Not at all surprising as the more I delve into the inner matters of my own embassy, the more I have to wonder if all or most of the employees put the keyword “incompetent” on their resume/CV to get an instant job.

“I called the Embassy – surprisingly they allowed me to keep my phone – and began a dialogue to have someone from the embassy come and have me released. They refused to do so, citing diplomatic issues between Washington and the Egyptian security forces as well as the security situation on the street outside. I was angry at my government.

Repeatedly, Embassy officials said they could not come and retrieve me due to the security officer at the embassy banning all personnel from being near the scene. I was perturbed, considering the American Embassy is, literally, on the opposite side of the street approximately 100 meters from where I was being held.

By early afternoon, a Hungarian national, Mark Fodor, was also brought in, also for taking photos at the same spot I was detained. He contacted his Embassy and the ball was rolling. By around 9 PM the Hungarian Counsel was en route to take him from detention. I was livid, angry that my embassy was telling me they “have to go through the proper channels and were doing all they could to have me released.” Two military officers had specifically told Embassy officials on the phone that to have me released, an embassy employee had to come get me. They never came and even told me that I would have to stay the night until the morning.

Fodor was released when the Embassy official arrived and I remained in my seat, waiting and hoping they would tire of my presence. It was cold and after Fodor – who I had conversed with throughout the afternoon and early evening – was gone, I was digging in for a night in the small, pitch black room.

Somehow, approximately 30 minutes after Fodor was freed, two soldiers came into the room, asked me if I knew how to get home and took me to a side street outside and let me go. It was a strange turn of events, but I had been freed.”

The US Embassy sent an email to employees yesterday instructing them to avoid downtown and the 6th of October bridge. Those of us registered with the State Department have failed to see anything in regards to the recent clashes. If so, it must have mysteriously skipped my inbox although I received two emails today discussing the upcoming presidential elections in the US.

I will admit that as a journalist, you are aware that you may be compromised for trying to get the story out. And this is not anyone’s responsibility but your own; however, it’s unnerving that if you do contact the embassy, it refuses to get involved although the government institution has no qualms about appearing as though it actually cares. This was my point in the blog: US Citizens Left Behind by US Government. Another detail is that the Hungarian national that was jailed for the same violation as Mayton had immediate help. Then again, you do need to take into account how many Hungarians that are located in Egypt as opposed to Americans. However, a friend of mine working for the New Zealand Embassy told me that during the revolution, three Fox News journalists were detained, a New Zealander, Canadian and American. The NZ Embassy helped facilitate the release of all three.

There are other variables to consider, but then there are other stories that need to be highlighted. Such as the lack of an appropriate crisis management or evacuation plan during the January 25 revolution. The more I check into the ongoings at the US Embassy, the more I question the real work being conducted at the government facility.

A former military officer working for the embassy confessed to me in October that alcohol was prevalent in many offices with on-the-clock drinking occurring regularly. Even more shocking, one Lt. Col. accessed personnel files in order to contact spouses in the US to make aware that their counterparts in Egypt were having an affair (this after the Lt. Col. made several advances to the subordinate). Unacceptable and a violation on numerous accounts. You have time to access personnel records for personal agendas, but you fail to have time to help American citizens living abroad?

What’s even funnier is that I visited a place a couple of months ago that only allowed Americans and it happened to be full of US Embassy employees. One US Embassy official was speaking with another man saying that the ineptitude of the Embassy during the revolution was another department’s fault. He said, “It’s not the Embassy’s fault, it’s those State Department guys.” The blame game is not just an Egyptian trait.

So why would I ever assume that the embassy is capable of providing help when clearly more important matters are the priority of the so-called agenda. You will notice that the only reason the embassy got involved in the three American college students detained for throwing Molotov cocktails was because the US media had a field day with the story. When in actuality, that should have been the time that they were not involved. Mayton was trying to get a story, he wasn’t inciting violence. “Diplomatic issues between Washington and the Egyptian security forces” prevented the US Embassy from helping him but allowed them to help three college students who threw Molotov cocktails? Needed: a functioning brain at the US Embassy.


  1. Given my own problems in Egypt, I know this to be true. Our Embassy does not respond to request for help. They are entirely a for-profit run business and not a very well run business at that. If you are not buying visas, passports, or more pages for that already expensive passport, they really do not want to be bothered with you. I guess if we offered to pay an exorbitant fee for assistance then they would get off their a---- and help.

  2. The US Embassy is useless when it comes to helping citizens in need. It is really sad. I worked for the US Embassy in Argentina and saw it first hand. I had an issue where a failure by the US Department of State landed me in trouble and they tried to blame it all on me until I proved that it was their fault. After I proved it was there fault they tried to help me but were useless. I ended up having to get myself out of the situation by paying people money. Now I am in another situation in Paraguay where I have filed a report against Paraguayans who tried to con me out of money. I have asked them to let the prosecutors office know that they are aware of the situation and monitoring it to ensure proper procedures and they refuse to even do that. Our tax dollars go so they can live the lavish diplomatic lifestyle but they will not go out of their way to help an American Citizen. Only to advance their own career. It is in stark contrast to other embassies that really try to help their citizens.