Ayman Hadhoud: Mysterious death of economist sparks outrage in Egypt

According to official records, Ayman Mohamed Ali Hadhoud died on 5 March, but his body was not handed over to relatives till 9 April

<p>Ayman Hadhoud’s family was asked to collect his body from Abbasiya Mental Healthy Hospital on 9 April, two months after he disappeared</p>

Ayman Hadhoud’s family was asked to collect his body from Abbasiya Mental Healthy Hospital on 9 April, two months after he disappeared

The Egyptian authorities are facing questions following the mysterious death of a prominent economist, who had been missing since early February, amid fears that he was tortured in custody.

Ayman Mohamed Ali Hadhoud, 48, was a founding member of the liberal Reform and Development Party and a critic of president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi’s economic policies.

Hadhoud died on 5 March, two months after he went missing. But his family said that they were only informed of his death on Saturday, a full month later. They said they were told to come and collect his body from the government-run Abbasiya Mental Health Hospital in Cairo.

His family alleged that he was detained by National Security Agency (NSA) agents in February. They also fear that authorities killed him and are now trying to cover up the incident.

The cause and circumstances of Hadhoud’s death remain unclear and have led to a growing public outrage.

After Hadhoud went missing on 5 February this year, his family was informed by the police that he was detained at the Amiriya Police Station, a site belonging to the National Security Agency, his brother Omar Hadhoud told Mada Masr. However, NSA officials denied taking him into custody.

Only a week after his disappearance did the family learn that Hadhoud had been transferred to Abbasiya hospital for a 45-day psychiatric evaluation.

“We anticipated that he had a nervous breakdown from the amount of questioning and torture, but we were glad that he was alive,” a family member told the Middle East Eye.

They said the family made multiple attempts to try and visit Hadhoud in hospital. But the hospital turned them away each time and told them to approach the prosecution authorities.

But these authorities denied having any information on Hadhoud’s whereabouts, and so the family was unable to visit the economist.

Official accounts on why Hadhoud was referred to the psychiatric hospital in the first place have also differed, adding to the family’s doubts.

The interior ministry, which oversees the police in Egypt, said on Sunday that Hadhoud was pronounced dead in the Cairo hospital, without providing more details. It added that Hadhoud was detained on 6 February for attempting to break into an apartment in an upscale Cairo district, and exhibiting “irresponsible behavior”.

“Legal measures were taken at the time and he was placed in a psychiatric hospital based on the decision of the public prosecution,” it added.

However, hospital records reveal that Hadhoud was held for allegedly attempting to steal a car in the city of Senbellawein in Daqahlia, a version that public prosecutors at Nasr City Police Station repeated while speaking with his family.

According to local reports, Hadhoud was kept in a section belonging to the Forensic Medicine Department, overseen by the interior ministry, where suspects or convicts requiring psychiatric evaluation are held.

Slamming the contradictory accounts, the economist’s brother Omar said the public prosecution and other security authorities had said till Saturday that they did not even know where Hadhoud was.

Only at the end of March, when the family was finally able to communicate with a hospital employee, were they informed that the economist had died earlier that month.

The family members also claimed that there was “an attempt to bury the body in a charity-oriented cemetery” in a bid to hide evidence even though Hadhoud had his national ID when he was forcibly disappeared.

Remembering the graduate from the School of Business Administration at the American University in Cairo as a calm and considerate person, Hadhoud’s friend told the Middle East Eye that his work was “not supercritical and he was not active online”.

“Nor did he share radical criticism of the regime or the country’s policies,” he added.

The economist’s death has sparked widespread outrage in the country, which has seen a number of alleged instances of police and custodial abuse in recent years.

In 2016, an Italian doctoral student was found brutally killed on the side of a Cairo road. Italy alleged that police officers had abducted and murdered him, but Egypt denied the charge.

Activists and academics have taken to social media to denounce Hadhoud’s death and many have called for an investigation.

The interior ministry has, however, denied any allegations of wrongdoing or forced disappearances.

A branch of the public prosecution in Cairo’s Nasr City ordered an autopsy on Sunday as contradicting official accounts emerged following the disappearance.

Additional reporting by agencies

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