Saturday, September 5, 2009

US Citizen Involved in Pro-Gaza March Barred from Entering Egypt

American citizen barred from entering Egypt
Al-Masry Al-Youm
Thursday 03 September 2009
By Joseph Mayton

It had already been a whirlwind few days for Travis Randall as his plane landed at Cairo International Airport on Tuesday evening around 9 pm. He was looking forward to the return to Egypt, his home for the better part of the past three years working at Enigma magazine and then as a consultant for USAID.

By Wednesday the 27-year-old American found himself deported on a flight back to London. The time spent between his arrival and departure was shocking for Randal who was back in Cairo to follow-up on potential interest in a television series idea he was working on.

Randall sent a text message to this reporter, a friend, at 9:36 pm saying that he believed he was about to be interrogated at the airport and asked what he should do.

He then spent the next few hours being taken from one room to another, he said, until he was informed that he was not to be allowed into the country and must book himself immediately back to London -- Randall had arrived in Cairo on the return leg of his round-trip ticket bought before leaving Egypt earlier this summer.

The Egyptian Twittersphere was closely monitoring the situation, tweeting news on Randall’s situation, as it became known. Mohamed Maree, a blogger based in Mahalla, questioned if the American was not being held due to his taking part in the February Free Gaza march earlier this year.

This was the solidarity with Gaza march that resulted in German-Egyptian blogger Philip Rizk being arrested and jailed for four days. It sparked widespread outrage here in Egypt and abroad. Although Randall was not arrested at the time, his participation seems to have prompted Egyptian officials to put his name on “the list" at the airport.

Randall himself said later in the evening Tuesday that the customs officer had told him he is on a “list" and had to move to a security zone where he would be questioned.

“The officers are not telling me why I am sitting here and one guy even said he doesn’t know what is happening," Randall said shortly before getting the order to return to London.

The American Embassy in Cairo has also received a massive amount of criticism from the Twittersphere over the handling of the situation. One American tweeted that “the embassy refuses to intervene in these situations and it is crap."

Upon receiving orders from security, Randall says he contacted the Embassy, where an official told him “there is nothing I can do. You have to follow the rules."

No American official was sent to the airport and no intervention was made on behalf of the American citizen, who had his computer and laptop confiscated at around 2:00 am. The Embassy, in conversations early Wednesday morning and again in the afternoon, said they were “following what was happening" but could not comment to “non-family members."

Following the dissemination of Randall’s deportation, the Embassy and American President Barack Obama became the topic of discussion for activists and observers in the country. One tweet from the US read “will my president do anything or will this be a nothing situation like always."

A number of other twitterers, including likened Randall’s situation to James Buck – the American photographer detained briefly in 2008, during the massive Mahalla workers strikes in the Delta. In Buck’s case the American Embassy only sent him cell phone credit.

“I'm sad about what happened and concerned for Travis. It's distressing to have your life's plans changed for you for no logical reason," a friend added in frustration.

Randall’s family and girlfriend have confirmed that he arrived safely in London.

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