Ramy Shaath, 48, the son of senior Palestinian political figure Nabil Shaath and himself the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator for the Gaza-Jericho agreement following the Oslo Accords, was arrested in Egypt on July 5, accused of “assisting a terrorist group.”
Ramy’s French wife, Celine Lebrun-Shaath, who had been living in Egypt for the past seven years, was deported following his arrest, and only immediate family members are allowed to visit him in prison, once a week for 20 minutes. Shaath’s detention has been extended every 15 days since his arrest; he is being held at the infamous Tora Prison in Egypt.
Nabil Shaath was an adviser to PLO leader Yasser Arafat, the P.A.’s first foreign minister and a member of the PLO Executive Committee.
The details on Ramy’s arrest in Cairo have not been disclosed, but regime sources have suggested on social media that he was affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
According to his father and wife, however, Ramy was arrested for his activism on behalf of the Egyptian branch of the BDS movement, which he founded in 2015, and for publishing and disseminating anti-Egyptian slogans following Egypt’s participation in the “Peace to Prosperity” economic workshop in Bahrain in June.
Ramy opposes Egypt’s continued normalization process with Israel and had been very active in anti-Israeli societies and activities. He has also been a vocal opponent of the American “deal of the century” peace initiative.
I first met Ramy during negotiations on the Gaza-Jericho agreements. He presented the documents and maps to PLO chief Yasser Arafat to sign and seal the agreement with Israel on the implementation of the Gaza-Jericho agreement on May 4, 1993. He had shown a keen interest in establishing and building a dialogue with Israel, and following the signing of the deal was promoted to the position of adviser to Arafat.
Ramy, a modest, polite and efficient aide to his father, never showed any signs of hesitation in dealing with Israel. On many occasions during the negotiations, we even shared meals and exchanged views and opinions about almost any subject of interest.
However, it seems that his residence in Egypt, where he has lived since 1977 (he has dual Egyptian and Palestinian citizenship), led to his radicalization.
In Egypt, Ramy Shaath became known for his association with opponents of peace and normalization with Israel. His critical approach to Egypt’s policy vis-à-vis Israel transformed him and radicalized his views. He sought ways to force Israel into concessions to the Palestinians, such as through BDS.
His brother, Ali Shaath, an “Egyptian tech pioneer,” also lived—and died—in Egypt, and it is possible he reinforced Ramy’s radicalism. After Ali died of a heart attack at age 45 in 2013, he was eulogized for “his contributions to the Arab Spring and Egyptian society.”
There is little doubt that the Egyptian move against the son of one of the icons of the P.A., with all the significance it carries regarding Egyptian-Palestinian relations, is an expression of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s zero-tolerance policy towards anti-regime activism.
El-Sisi fears the repercussions of domestic instability on the northeastern border with Sinai. Egypt seeks to neutralize any potential cooperation between Hamas operatives and the jihadists and the Muslim Brothers in Egypt as a whole, and Sinai in particular. El-Sisi thus finds himself involved unwillingly and in an uncontrollable manner in the Palestinian conflict with Israel, serving as a mediator between Israel and Hamas while exerting pressure on the P.A. to continue its security cooperation with Israel.
The P.A.’s latest declarations condemning Egypt for its participation in the Bahrain conference initiated by the United States, its blunt refusal to accept any part of the U.S. peace plan, and open criticism of Egypt’s normalization with Israel have widened the rift between Cairo and Ramallah.
In a way, Ramy Shaath is but an omen of what the future could hold if relations between the P.A. and Egypt continue to deteriorate.
Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, a special analyst for the Middle East at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, was formerly a foreign-policy adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the deputy head for assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence.
This article first appeared on the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs website.