For months, Maha Mekawy, a member of Al-Dostour Party and a mother of three, would carry a suitcase containing documents and a picture of her husband, Ashraf Shehata, who has been missing since 13 January 2014.
Since then, Mekawy has heard many claims on the whereabouts of her husband, also an Al-Dostour Party member, and strong supporter of Mohamed El-Baradei. Mekawy believes all evidence points to Homeland Security having abducted her husband, even though she does not have any physical proof, or even a single confirmation of Shehata’s disappearance.
Mekawy has nonetheless considered the reasons behind his hypothetical arrest. Since the downfall of former president Mohamed Morsi’s regime, all political accusations are associated with “the terrorist-declared organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood”.
As such, Mekawy carried around documents proving that all her husband’s property comes from inheritance, and was not funded by the Brotherhood, including the Green Community private school, which he established in the Kerdasa district of Giza before he disappeared.
Shehata’s case raises many questions. Mekawy, whom Daily News interviewed, could not reveal all information related to the quest for her husband on record, partly because she could not prove her claims, and partly because she said she has been indirectly threatened.
Tell us about Ashraf Shehata.
His original name is Raafat Faisal Shehata, known as Ashraf Shahata. He is a 40-year-old independent lawyer, who graduated from Law School at Cairo University in 1990. He didn’t practice law though; he was more into business like his father and grandfather.
He established a private school in Kerdasa with partners, the same school from which he disappeared, unfortunately.
We have been married for nearly 21 years now. Our eldest son Omar is in his second year at the American University on Cairo, studying politics and psychology. His brother Ali and sister Maha are ninth graders.
My children have a degree of political awareness. My son Omar was always impressed by the countries he visited, especially Europe. My husband encouraged him to study abroad if he would like, but he fostered in them patriotism and love for this country, telling Omar that eventually he must return to Egypt.
But now, this has changed with my son, who is not enthusiastic about staying here. Ali and Maha always say: “When daddy is out, we should all leave the country.” The children are aware of their father’s absence.
What about his political background?
Shehata held a membership card for the [dissolved] National Democratic Party, but was not really an active member. His father was also a member of the party and a community leader. I would even say that my husband was on the regime’s side.
Therefore, he cannot be accused of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. I remember that for months before his disappearance, he did not even visit his hometown because it was filled with Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi supporters.
Shehata also participated in several public protests against the Brotherhood regime, starting with Morsi’s contested constitutional declaration and ending in the 30 June mass uprising.
We worked with several civil and political forces, including joining a march against Morsi organised by the 6 April Youth Movement, distributing flyers, speaking to people, etc… Even after Morsi’s ouster and the dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in, Shehata offered to provide a working place for the “Kamel Gemeelak” campaign [a campaign that called for Al-Sisi to run for president].
Personally, I objected to this because I was against Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi running in the presidential elections; I thought he should remain in the army, not in politics. But my husband said I was too emotional and insisted on having the campaign.
Fate did not work in his favour. I am not sure he knows by now that Al-Sisi has indeed become the president.
Since before the revolution, he and I were also both members of the campaign supporting Mohamed ElBaradei. However, Shehata did not really do things himself. He preferred to remain in the backstage, and help by funding, but did not really do things on the ground.
He was not particularly interested in protesting or campaigning either, but he was very enthusiastic about the youth’s political engagement. He encouraged them to visit poor areas, surrounding neighbourhoods, and ask for the people’s needs, because he believed in change, and that did not necessarily mean switching power.
When he established his school, change was his motto. He though: we had the revolution but doesn’t change come through education?
When and how did he disappear?
On 13 January 2014, Shehata was at school, finalising some licensing documents, despite it having been public holiday (Prophet’s birth). Shehata was supposed to meet some people and went at 9am. He finished and came back home, but one of his partners asked him to come back and sit with friends.
So he went out again. I felt that he was anxious. Usually, we speak on the phone the entire time, but when I tried calling him his phone was off. I called his friends at school. They told me they could not find him either, but that he had come to school, and parked his car.
I immediately got dressed up and went. I found an envelope with the school’s official papers. After we were unable to find him, the security man’s wife said she had seen him going out of the backdoor while speaking on the phone.
Shehata used to walk around while talking on the phone. Maybe the person he was speaking to was waiting for him outside, because his phone was quickly turned off. All of this happened at approximately 11 am.
We started asking around. Ashraf was rather popular in the neighbourhood and did not have enemies. But nobody had seen him. We looked for him in every place you could imagine.
Where did you look for him?
Hospitals, hotels, family members’ houses, basically everywhere. A relative of his worked in the intelligence services and was able to track the phone. The phone showed two locations, in Nasr City, then in 6th of October city, as though it had been quickly switched on and off again.
I am not able to retrieve phone calls lists because the line is under his name, and there needs to be legal authorisation before doing so. I went to the general prosecution authorities and they sent them indeed, after refusing to give me a copy of it.
Yet, until now, I am being told that the mobile company has not responded, which I find suspicious.
Shortly after, another picture began to draw itself. I was told by a friend who works in a telecommunications company “that this smells of Homeland Security practices.”
First, I did not understand, but then a relative called me and told me that they indeed had Shehata and that he was safe. But the same relative later came back and told me he had “mistaken the name”, and stopped answering my phone calls.
Which state institutions have you addressed?
The day after Shehata’s disappearance, I went to the Kerdasa police station and filed a report in full detail. There were no investigations into my claims. Until today, nobody has even showed up in our neighbourhood or the school to collect information that would help find him.
On the other hand, security informants were doing their best to find out more about him. For instance, somebody would call me and ask me about the details of the school property.
At this point, I had tried to get in touch with Homeland Security, and the Giza security directorate, but both denied having him in their custody. However, I suspected they had him until a friend called and told me he was at the Homeland Security headquarters in 6th of October City.
I was treated unusually. Instead of the front office employees running a dummy check in their document containing the names, or sending me away with no confirmation of my husband’s detention, or even letting me in to see a junior officer who would repeat that, I was made to wait for 30 minutes with the children, then asked to see the office head of the body, alone.
What did he, and other security officials you met, say?
He said: ‘Your husband is not here.’ I said: ‘But he might be, because there were recent arrests and security raids in Kerdasa.’
But his answer was shocking to me, as he told me: ‘Maybe he has travelled, doesn’t he have a passport?’
That was the moment I realised he was lying. Shehata had lost his national ID card and was carrying his passport. It was on him when he disappeared. But I had not told the official that, yet. At the same time, I realised that what he said was not a naive mistake. I left his office with no further information.
I spent many hours with officials at the Ministry of Interior, but in vain. I filed many complaints, sent telegraphs to the presidency, but I was never addressed on the matter, and my initiative to go inquire was always faced by me being sent home, defeated.
Eventually, I was facing harassment. One police officer in Kerdasa said to me: ‘You’re a pretty woman, I wonder why he would leave you and travel.’
But the most honest of them all was a Homeland Security official, who wrapped it up for me by saying: “Start a media campaign, get on TV, because they are never going to give you an answer.”
After the interview, Mekawy showed official papers obtained from the Mogamaa Al-Tahrir. In handwriting, the paper said Shehata was “out of the country”. However, an attached form of travelling details was left blank. Papers come from the Ministry of Interior, but were not stamped.