An Egyptian man who had once told former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to “fear Allah” after meeting with him in a mosque has spoken out about being subject to harsh treatment while serving 15 years in prison for saying those two words.
In 1993, Sheikh Ali al-Qattan was praying at the Prophet’s mosque in Saudi Arabia, the second holiest site in Islam, when he was surprised to find Mubarak entering the prayer hall.
“It was a spontaneous incident, I didn’t plan for this,” Qattan told Egyptian television talk show “Al Haqiqa” (The Truth) this week.
“After we finished prayer I turned and I saw the president; it was strange because they had emptied a large section of the prayer hall for him to enter. He had bodyguards around him that were heavily armed; it all looked very hostile and made the atmosphere in mosque uncomfortable.”
Qattan then stood up and walked closer to the former president and told him to “fear God, ” in a display of his anger at how Mubarak was leading the country.
At the time, Qattan explains, Egypt was embroiled in deadly clashes with Islamist insurgents. The year 1993 was a particularly severe year for terrorist attacks in Egypt, resulting in at least 1100 people being killed or wounded, while several senior police officials and their bodyguards were shot dead in daylight ambushes.
“Security forces would roam the country’s streets and randomly firing at Egyptians,” Qattan explains.
After saying his remark, Qattan said Mubarak “immediately looked uneasy.”
“He spun left and right to look around him to call his bodyguards. The guards immediately seized me violently and surrounded Mubarak, pushing him quickly outside of the prayer hall. I then understood that he was probably scared that some sort of violent attack on him would follow.
“The guards then put their hands over my mouth, as if to stop me from saying anything more, but I hadn’t planned to. They took me out of the hall, not even giving him a chance to wear my shoes.
“They carried out a body search to look for a bomb or a weapon. When they couldn’t find anything on me, one officer told me: ‘You’ve embarrassed us. You should have told [Mubarak] that in Egypt.’”
To that, Qattan then responded: “We’re in a mosque; it’s for all of the international Muslim community and it felt right to say such a [religious] comment in a mosque.”
Sheikh Qattan was taken from Medina to a Jeddah province to be interrogated. He recalls being dragged down by a “10-kilogram chain and ball” whilst walking in the airport to the plane.
After he was questioned in Saudi Arabia, a group from Egypt’s National Security came to take him back to Egypt.
“It was as if I was a terrorist. They tied me up with several chains and handcuffs. They even wanted to sedate me, pressuring me to drink the sedative, but I told them I was fasting and would not drink anything,” he said,
When Qattan arrived in Egypt, the investigators found that Qattan had no affiliation to Islamic militant or terrorist groups.
The former prison officer at the jail Qattan was detained in, Major-General Ibrahim Abd al-Ghaffar, described how Qattan was treated during his imprisonment.
“For years he was locked up in solitary confinement and not allowed to have visitors by an order from the interior minister. I decided to take him out of the room he was locked in and every day I would tell him to come to my office, where he could sit with me and drink tea. I knew he was being tyrannized.”
Ghaffar then asked another Major-General to write a request for Qattan to be released. But the request was rejected by former presidential chief of staff, Zakariya Azmy, who said that Mubarak was still “disturbed” by Qattan’s case and to not mention the topic again, Ghaffar said. The request was then appealed several times before the authorities eventually agreed to free Qattan by 2007.
During the television interview, Qattan mentioned that in Islamic history, the term “Fear God” was said to the caliphs (successors) of Islam.
“Caliphs used to urge people to advise them to fear God. When they heard it, they would not be infuriated [like Mubarak was], but they would welcome it as advice.
“There is no higher example of democracy than this,” Qattan added.
Despite this religious delineation, Mubarak had still ordered his detainment for 15 years without being tried and under tormenting circumstances.