CAIRO — Human-rights activists are demanding the release of Nagla Wafa, an Egyptian wedding planner and designer sentenced to 500 lashes and five years in prison in Saudi Arabia following a business dispute with a princess.
Wafa ran afoul of a royal in the Saudi kingdom over the finances of a joint business venture, according to her family. She was reportedly accused of cashing a check from the princess but not following through on their deal to start a restaurant.
“As of May of 2012, Ms. Wafa has been subjected, on a weekly basis, to 50 floggings per week within the ‘Al-Malz’ Prison. She currently faces 200 more floggings ... despite her suffering from distortions to her spine,” the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights said in an online statement.
Accusing Saudi Arabian authorities of unlawfully detaining the 39-year-old mother of teenage twins, the organization said the case was a “blatant violation” of human rights and filed a complaint with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Nashwa Ismael, Wafa’s mother, who lives in Cairo, said her daughter wasn’t accused of fraud charges until about 20 months after she was arrested in 2009. Ismael said the family wasn’t able to find a Saudi Arabian lawyer to take Wafa’s case until June, when they first went public with the issue.
“Nagla’s case should have appeared before a business court and she should have been notified of her accusations right away,“ Ismael told The Times.
Ismael added that since the family decided to go public, Saudi Arabian authorities have kept Wafa from outside contact. She was previously allowed one phone call a month.
“Last time I spoke with her was about a month ago. She was utterly devastated and tired because she lost everything, her sons, her livelihood,” Ismael said.
Egypt’s National Council for Women has also sent a letter to the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Cairo demanding Wafa’s release for “lack of conviction.” The council urged Saudi Arabian authorities to halt Wafa’s flogging sentence.
About 2 million Egyptian expatriates currently live and work in Saudi Arabia. Over the years, Egyptian human-rights activists and protesters have repeatedly accused Saudi Arabian officials of mistreating Egyptian nationals, who travel to there seeking better job opportunities.
In April, the two Arab countries had a falling out when hundreds of Egyptians protested outside the kingdom’s embassy in Cairo for the release of Egyptian lawyer Ahmed al-Gizawi, who was arrested on drug charges while traveling to Saudi Arabia for a pilgrimage.
The protests forced the kingdom to recall its ambassador and shut down the embassy. At the time, analysts said Egypt-Saudi relations hadn’t witnessed such a strain since Egypt signed the Camp David Peace treaty with Israel in 1979.
As Egyptian human-rights advocates continue to demand Wafa's release, Saudi Arabian and Egyptian officials have not commented on the case.
Essam Al-Arian, vice chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, has become one of the few Egyptian politicians to push for her freedom.
“The [Egyptian] foreign ministry is still silent about Nagla Wafa, who is imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Why doesn’t the kingdom announce the truths of the case so that such regretful mishaps do not recur? We need clarity,” he said on his official Twitter account.
Wafa’s mother said Egyptian officials have failed to reach out to the family to learn more about Nagla’s case.
“The Egyptian ambassador in Saudi Arabia is more worried about his prestige and salary, rather than doing his job by helping the Egyptian people residing in Saudi Arabia. These kinds of problems have affected many Egyptians abroad, not just us,” she said.
— Reem Abdellatif
Photo: Nagla Wafa and her sons. Credit: The Wafa family