A Los Angeles man working in Cairo as an English-Arabic translator and his Egyptian roommate, a documentary filmmaker, were taken into custody this week amid a sweeping crackdown by the country's military-backed transitional government.
It was not immediately clear why the American, Jeremy Hodge, and his friend, Hossam Meneai, were detained, according to a statement issued by friends and posted on the English-language news site Egypt Independent.
They were taken from their Cairo apartment by government security forces Wednesday night and were being held at an undisclosed location without being charged, the statement said.
Meneai, 36, was recently commissioned to produce a documentary about the country’s Coptic Christians for Russian state television, the statement said. Hodge, 25, was doing translation for the corruption watchdog Transparency International and has worked in the past for the English-language Daily News Egypt.
Supporters of Egypt's deposed Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, have been the main target of the government's crackdown, which appears aimed at silencing its critics. But secular activists prominent in the 2011 uprising against longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak have also been swept up in a widening dragnet, along with prominent academics, bloggers and journalists.
Emad Shahin, a professor of public policy at the American University in Cairo who has also taught at Harvard, expressed "severe shock" this week after being named as a defendant in an espionage case brought against Morsi and other senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Another well-known intellectual, former member of parliament and political scientist Amr Hamzawy, was charged this month with insulting the judiciary, a case related to a tweeted criticism of a court ruling last year against foreign nongovernmental organizations involved in efforts to promote democracy in Egypt.
Hodge's mother, Lisa de Moraes, told the Los Angeles Times that her son was known to speak his mind. But she added: "My son is not a member of any political group. He went over there as a translator."
As a student at UC Santa Barbara, Hodge went to Egypt to study Arabic at the American University in Cairo, she said. That trip was cut short by the uprising against Mubarak, but he later returned to work in Cairo.
After speaking to Hodges' friends, De Moraes said she suspected that her son was detained because he lives with an Egyptian from the Sinai Peninsula -- where police and the army are battling a low-level insurgency -- and because security officials found it suspicious that an American would speak such fluent Arabic.
Another roommate, who was questioned with Hodge on Wednesday but was not taken into custody, said the primary concern appeared to be the American's language proficiency and how they both became friends with Meneai, according to the statement.
De Moraes, a Los Angeles-based film editor, said she had been in contact with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, who told her they did not expect to be able to visit Hodge until Sunday. She expressed concern about her son's health, noting that he suffers from asthma and was unlikely to have medication with him.
"We are aware that a U.S. citizen has been detained in Egypt," the embassy said in an emailed statement. "We will provide all appropriate consular assistance. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment."
Tension has been escalating in Cairo, where a series of explosions Friday killed at least six people and injured scores despite tight security on the eve of the anniversary of the uprising that toppled Mubarak.