Members of the Egyptian military are prohibited from doing many things others in democratic societies take for granted. They may not vote or join a political party. They may not protest or criticize the military or government, even in the privacy of their own homes. They are required to stay in the military a minimum of ten years, and can retire only when, and if, the military approves their request for retirement. Members of the military may not complain of treatment to any human rights groups. They cannot visit an embassy for any reason. Members of the Egyptian military cannot marry foreign citizens.
Before our marriage it was made clear to Ahmed, through his commanding officers, that he would not be permitted to retire, despite the fact that he had more than completed his required term of service because Ahmed’s qualifications as a helicopter pilot are scarce in the Egyptian Air Force. If he were to remain in the military, we would either have to wait over 20 years to marry or marry secretly and hope the military never found out. For a man like Ahmed, neither were good options. My husband is not a coward who will hide, nor would he deny the woman he loved the commitment of marriage.
My husband, Ahmed Azzam was a model officer. In 11 years of service, he was never, ever reprimanded, or even late. He passed every test, received a promotion at every opportunity, and maintained a perfect record. By choosing to be upright and honest, he earned the chance to travel and train with the US military seven times. He excelled in his field, is a senior instructor pilot for the Blackhawk helicopter, and certified by the US Military. Ahmed was a trusted helicopter pilot, in charge of safety issues as his base, and was regularly entrusted to pilot for major leaders. Ahmed is well respected among his colleagues and friends.
On October 16, 2011, Ahmed and I were legally married under the jurisdiction of the Egyptian Ministry of Justice. The marriage is legal and binding under Egyptian law. He reported his marriage to his commanding officers himself, hoping that his flawless record, devoted service and honesty would prompt the Egyptian military to give him justice and recognize that he is the person best able to choose his wife.
Military officers who get married to foreigners are not supposed to be sued before a military court, they are only supposed to be discharged from service. Item 74 (1983) states that officers who marry foreigners should be discharged from military service. Item 70 (2000), Id. reinforces Item 74 from 1983, specifically stating that military commanders cannot bring officers to trial or punish them in any other way besides expulsion from the military. Yet on November 28, 2011, Ahmed was brought before a military court (case number 5134 from Military Misdemeanors, East Cairo Military Prosecution) and charged with disobeying military orders (Items 153 and 166) because he married me, an American citizen.
On December 3, 2011, Ahmed was sentenced to one year in military prison for marrying me. He is currently held in prison with violent offenders; men charged with crimes such as murder, theft, and drug use. Ahmed faced a biased court, with a verdict that was decided before he even walked in the door. Though the judge admitted the charges did not fit the crime, Ahmed was still found guilty. There is no presumption of innocence, and no recognition that an officer in the Egyptian military is entitled to any form of reasonable justice.
We request that Air Marshal Reha Mahmoud Hafez, Commander of the Egyptian Air Force immediately release Ahmed Azzam from military prison and discharge him from service with the Egyptian military. Additionally, we request that Egyptian lawmakers and the Prime Minister work to check the powers of the military, even within its own ranks. The Prime Minister must ensure the human rights or all citizens, especially those who give their lives to the service of their country. The United States government, as the biggest and vital financial supporter of the Egyptian military, needs to take responsibility for ensuring that its ally upholds basic human rights before continuing their support.
This is a clear-cut, systematic, and repeated violation of human rights that is enforced and supported by the military at the highest ranks: the Air Force Commander himself must approve the prosecution and the sentencing. How can the Egyptian military be trusted to move the country forward when they cannot act with justice and fairness to people within their own organization? Do not dismiss it because it involves one individual, or involves a personal decision. It is hypocrisy at its worst to ignore individual freedoms as we push for democratic reform; individual freedoms are the basis for a fair democracy.