Ramy Shaath, the 48 years old son of Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator for the Gaza-Jericho agreement following the Oslo accords, was arrested in Egypt on July 5, 2019, accused of “assisting a terrorist group.”1 Ramy’s French wife, Celine Lebrun-Shaath, who had been living in Egypt for the last seven years, was deported, and only immediate family members are allowed to visit him once a week in prison for 20 minutes. Ramy Shaath’s detention has been extended every 15 days; he is being held at the infamous Tora prison.
Nabil Shaath was an advisor to PLO leader Yasser Arafat, formerly responsible for the foreign affairs of the Palestinian Authority, and a member of the executive committee of the PLO.
The reason for the younger Shaath’s arrest by the anti-terrorist brigade in Cairo has not been disclosed, but regime sources suggest on social media he was affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
According to his father and wife, Ramy Shaath was arrested for his activism on behalf of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement in Egypt, which he founded in 2015, and for publishing and disseminating anti-Egyptian slogans following Egypt’s participation in the Bahrain economic workshop. He opposes Egypt’s continued normalization process with Israel and had been very active in anti-Israeli societies and activities. Shaath has also been a vocal opponent to the American “deal of the century” peace initiative.
I first met Ramy Shaath during negotiations on the Gaza-Jericho agreements. Shaath 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 at the time a keen interest in establishing and building a dialogue with Israel, and following the signing of the deal, he was promoted to the position of adviser to Yasser 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 had chosen to live since 1977 (he has dual Egyptian and Palestinian citizenships) led to his radicalization. Ramy Shaath was known for his association with opponents of the peace and normalization with Israel. His critical approach to the policy conducted by Egypt vis-a-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,2 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.”
The Egyptian-Palestinian Rift
There is little doubt that the Egyptian move against the son of one of the icons of the Palestinian Authority with all the significance it carries on the Egyptian-Palestinian relations is the expression of the zero-tolerance policy conducted by the Sisi regime against what is interpreted as illegal activity against the regime. Egypt’s 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. Egypt’s Sisi finds himself involved unwillingly and in an uncontrollable manner in the Palestinian conflict with Israel, serving alternatively as a mediator between Israel and Hamas while exerting pressure on the Palestinian Authority to continue its security cooperation with Israel. The latest declarations by the Palestinian Authority condemning Egypt for its participation in the Bahrain conference initiated by the United States, the blunt refusal to accept any part of the “deal of the century,” and open criticism of Egypt’s normalization with Israel has widened the rift between the two. In a way, Ramy Shaath is but an omen of what could develop if relations between the PA and Egypt continue to deteriorate.
* * *