Press Release

July 27, 2023
Cardin Calls for Release of Egyptian Political Prisoner, Salah el Deen Soltan

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, Special Representative on Antisemitism, Racism and Intolerance for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, today submitted the following statement to the Congressional Record condemning antisemitism and asking Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to release Salah el Deen Soltan, who has been wrongfully detained in the country for nearly a decade.

Mr. President,

I rise today to speak of the importance of Holocaust education and engagement that can help us push back against the rising tide of antisemitism we are seeing nowadays, in our country and across the world.

As the Special Representative on Antisemitism, Racism and Intolerance for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as many of my colleagues know, I have made it a personal priority to address the rise of antisemitism. As antisemitism is increasing at home and abroad, it is important to come together to address antisemitism, and call out the hate when we see or hear it before it becomes more ingrained in our society.

At the same time, we should celebrate those occasions when a person with a history of making antisemitic statements sees the light and realizes the error of his ways, renounces his past statements and vows never to repeat them.  Happily, we have an example of just such a case that I would like to bring to the attention of Senate and the American people.

I would like to submit into the Congressional Record a noteworthy letter from Salah el Deen Soltan, a US person, who wrote last month to his newest grandson, to be shared with other grandchildren – most of whom he hasn’t met after a decade in wrongful detention in Egypt.

As Human Rights Watch stated in a report published on May 3, 2023, calling for Soltan to be released from his unjust imprisonment in one of Cairo’s most notorious jails:

Before moving to the United States, Soltan was a professor of Islamic Law at Cairo University. He later founded and served as the president of the Islamic American University in Dearborn, Michigan from 1999 to 2004. As a legal US permanent resident, Soltan lived and worked in the US for over a decade before his arrest in Egypt in September 2013 for opposing the military’s ousting of elected president Mohamed Morsi. A court sentenced Soltan to life in prison in September 2017 in a mass trial marred by extensive due process and fair trial violations. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined in 2018 that his arrest was arbitrary, as the authorities failed to provide credible evidence of wrongdoing, and that his prosecution violated the right to political participation and freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression.

In the coming weeks, Soltan will have served a full decade in Egyptian jails.  During this time, he had time to reflect on his personal history of making crude and cruel antisemitic statements to his students and followers over the years.  So he wrote a letter, that has been smuggled out of prison and delivered to his family.

In this letter, Soltan addresses his previously held antisemitic positions and remarks, apologizes for them and disavows them. In solitary confinement, Soltan reflects on his past, corrects the record for his grandson, and lays out how would like to be remembered in case he never gets the opportunity to meet his grandchildren. 

As he writes – “My previous statements and stances are wrong and the best of us are those who reflect, hold oneself accountable and repent. Here I am, reflecting and seeking forgiveness from God for the harm that may have been inflicted upon anyone. I apologize to everyone harmed by what I said and called for. I leave behind these prison walls all forms of anger, hate and coarseness. I bear the burden of upholding the sanctity of human life, speaking truth and defending it wherever it may be. I had only intended to stand up for justice but what I did resulted in the exact opposite of the intent; and became a reason for further oppression, suffering and marginalization of the innocent.  In fact, my oppressors used my decade-old stances to justify and fend off pressure from concerned western parties about my release.”

It is never too late for remorse and redemption.  

In 2020, we saw several Muslim-majority Middle Eastern governments normalize diplomatic relations with Israel with the historic announcement of the Abraham Accords. And in the years since, there has been a real thawing of the hostility toward the Jewish state in some of the neighboring countries. Overcoming decades of official hostility toward the government and people of Israel, broadcast through official media outlets and often imbued with blatant antisemitism, will take time. But a journey begins with a single step. And the reconciliation of the peoples of the region begins with one person.

Together, we can choose peace and forgiveness, rather than be prisoners of past differences. In that spirit, and consistent with the Jewish tradition of Teshuva, in which people can see the error of their ways and vow never to repeat that which has offended the Creator, I welcome and embrace Salah Soltan’s change of heart.  

Especially given his difficult circumstances, I find it refreshing and notable that he has taken the time and the trouble to send a heartfelt message to his grandchildren.  He has accepted responsibility for his previous hateful words, and is seeking forgiveness from those harmed by it. 

This September, Soltan will have been imprisoned for a decade in Egyptian prisons where human rights organizations have estimated there to be over 60,000 political prisoners. Last May, more than 50 human rights organizations released a joint statement noting that Soltan is at serious risk of death due to deteriorating health conditions.

In recent weeks, Egypt has started to correct course with the release of two high profile detainees. I urge President Sisi to extend his presidential pardon to Soltan, so that he may leave Egypt and be reunited with his family.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the complete text of the letter written by Salah el Deen Soltan to his grandchildren be printed in full at this point in the Congressional Record.