March 5, 2012
He is 54 but looks 70 – “like an Indian yogi with a long white beard,” as ex-Colonel Mohamed el-Ghanem’s Swiss lawyer puts it. “I entered his cell – I had a Swiss official next to me who formally introduced me. Colonel Ghanem was sitting on his bed with his feet on the floor. Then he lay on the bed and pulled the blanket up to his chin. He did not say a word – not a single word. For much of the time, he shut his eyes.”
Pierre Bayenet specialises in human rights cases but admits that ex-President Mubarak’s former Interior Ministry colonel – locked up for six years without trial in a Swiss prison after accusing the Swiss security services of blackmailing him – is one of the strangest cases he has even been involved in. As a journalist, I must say the same. I met Colonel Ghanem in Cairo 12 years ago, a tough, English-speaking military man who opposed Mubarak for his bias against Egypt’s Christian Copts, the Egyptian government’s corruption, nepotism, torture and human rights abuses. His interview with me provoked a blaze of harassment from the Egyptian security police, until he was given temporary political asylum in Switzerland.
In any other world, he would now be a hero of the Egyptian revolution, one of the first police officers to revolt against the dictator overthrown a year ago. Instead, he has been fingered by the Swiss security service as a dangerous Islamist subversive, slandered by a Swiss police officer for a Geneva assault which never took place, prevented from meeting his sister-in-law after Swiss security talked to the FBI, and now sits – refusing to talk even to his own lawyer – in a Geneva prison cell.
“He has lots of papers in his cell which appear to have been written by him about his case,” Mr Bayenet says. “He lay there with his eyes shut. I told him about his brother Ali’s attempt to see him, I said that I was meeting you, Robert. These were the only times he reacted. He opened his eyes and closed them again. He was listening to every word. I told him Ali thought he might be dead. I told him you were following his case. I was in the end rather positive – at least he didn’t tell me to go!” Doctors at the prison told Mr Ghanem about the Egyptian revolution. He did not respond.