U.S. Embassy Employee detained in Egypt

Security forces have detained an Egyptian employee of the United States Embassy who worked as a liaison to the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian news reports said Wednesday, stirring fears of new pressure on Western diplomats who seek to contact the Islamist opposition.

Embassy officials said the employee, Ahmed Alaiba, has been held without charge for more than two weeks. He was detained on Jan. 25, the third anniversary of the Arab Spring revolt, in the neighborhood of Mohandessin. Egyptian news media have reported anonymous statements from Egyptian security officials, according to which he had participated in “rioting” during demonstrations against the military ouster last summer of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

of conspiring with Brotherhood leaders and reports this week have accused Mr. Alaiba of frequent contact with the Brotherhood leadership, implying that he was part of those efforts.

The arrest has unnerved Western diplomats. Many were already wrestling with fears of retribution from the military-backed government if they continued to meet with Brotherhood officials.

Diplomats have met regularly with Brotherhood leaders for decades, first when they made up a minority block in the Parliament under President Hosni Mubarak and then when they won free elections in 2011 and 2012 to become the governing party.

But since Mr. Morsi’s ouster last summer, the new military-backed government has reclassified the Brotherhood as a terrorist group. The new government has jailed Mr. Morsi, his advisers and most Brotherhood leaders, and it has sent mixed signals to Western diplomats, journalists and nongovernmental organizations about whether meeting with Brotherhood representatives would now be deemed a crime.

The government recently filed criminal charges against 20 journalists, accusing them of conspiring with the Brotherhood to spread false reports about civil strife in Egypt. Some of the journalists have said they believe they were arrested for attempting to contact the Brotherhood and report on the views of its members.

At least four of the 20 have been detained, one since August and three since December. All four had been working for the Qatari-owned news network Al Jazeera, which is the only Arabic-language news outlet still operating in Egypt that is sympathetic to the Islamists.

One of the detainees, Peter Greste, an Australian journalist who previously worked for the BBC and has been detained since December, said in a letter from prison that he believed his only crime was meeting with representatives of the Brotherhood to report their views. Rena Netjes, a Dutch journalist with no ties to Al Jazeera, has said she believes she was charged for meeting with another detained Al Jazeera journalist, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, an Egyptian-Canadian producer who previously worked for CNN. Ms. Netjes fled the country before she could be arrested.

A spokesman for the United States Embassy, Mofid Deak, said it was in contact with the Egyptian government about Mr. Alaiba’s status.

Mr. Alaiba’s name appeared in the Egyptian news media last summer, in leaked emails that had been received by a Brotherhood leader, Khairat el-Shater.

The emails were apparently obtained by the Egyptian authorities when they arrested Mr. Shater and seized his computer as part of the military takeover, and the messages included several from Mr. Alaiba requesting meetings with Mr. Shater for embassy officials or a visiting congressional delegation.

“If Dr. Morsi isn’t available, the delegation would like to meet Mr. Shater at the same suggested time slot,” Mr. Alaiba wrote in one email.

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