On 21 January, the head of Egypt's ruling military council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, appointed 10 members to the lower house of Parliament, the People's Assembly, two days before the newly elected legislature was seated. The appointments were nothing new. Former President Hosni Mubarak had done the same each time a new People's Assembly was elected during his reign, and according to the March 2011 Interim Constitution, the head of the republic remains responsible for these appointments.
Mubarak often used this presidential prerogative as an opportunity to appoint Coptic Christians, a perennially underrepresented minority, to the legislative body. Tantawi followed in his example, naming five Copts to the chamber.
However, one of the Copts Tantawi appointed, Tarek Makram Shaker, is not qualified to serve in the Parliament. Official documents and interviews with those familiar with Shaker reveal him to be a twice-convicted criminal in the United States and possibly an American citizen, both of which violate the membership terms of Egypt's most important legislative body.
On Monday, the People's Assembly's Legislative and Constitutional Committee launched an investigation into Shaker's citizenship and criminal record in order to determine the legality of his membership, according to a report in Al-Masry Al-Youm. Freedom and Justice Party MP Mahmoud al-Khodairy, the committee chairman and a former judge, said that if Shaker's record is not clean, the committee will submit a report to the People's Assembly and prepare to strip him of his membership.
An American citizen?
The People's Assembly is within its legal right to determine whether its own members fulfill all the conditions of membership, says Amr Shalakany, a professor of law at the American University in Cairo.
“If you carry another passport, then you can't be a member [of Parliament], period,” he explains.
The question of Shaker's dual citizenship stretches back to 8 September 2009, when he pled nolo contendere — a plea by which a defendant accepts conviction but does not formally admit guilt — to one count of impersonating a lawyer in the Los Angeles Superior Court.
The court record explicitly lays out the effects of Shaker's probation:
“If you are not a citizen, you are hereby advised that a conviction of the offense for which you have been charged will have the consequences of deportation, exclusion from admission to the United States, or denial of naturalization pursuant to the law of the United States.”
None of these three things have happened, which would suggest that, save any extenuating circumstances, Shaker must be an American citizen. Shaker was not deported, and according to a 12 January 2011 article in the privately-owned Youm7 newspaper, Shaker discussed being in Egypt to attend the annual Coptic Christmas mass at Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Abbasseya.
Hani Bushra, a California-based immigration attorney who knows Shaker and has brought the most public attention to his parliamentary appointment, explains the third condition: “I've never seen a case in which someone was denied naturalization based on a deportable crime and wasn't deported.”
The only legal possibility for Shaker, therefore, is that he renounced his American citizenship before joining the People's Assembly. Earlier this month, Amr Hamzawy, a well-known liberal MP and founder of the Freedom Egypt Party, had to clarify that he had relinquished his German citizenship before registering to run for Parliament, following reports that he had been stripped of his membership.
Though Shaker would only have had two days to give up his American passport before the parliamentary inauguration on 23 January, it remains a possibility.
Shaker is also disqualified from the People's Assembly if he exhibits what parliamentary law calls “a lack of good moral standing,” says Shalakany. His two misdemeanor convictions in the United States call this into question.
On 8 May 2006, Shaker accepted a plea bargain from the Los Angeles Superior Court to reduce a shoplifting charge to a lesser charge of disturbing the peace, which is a misdemeanor. Two years later, on 18 December 2008, a Los Angeles judge issued a US$10,000 arrest warrant for Shaker for three counts of misrepresenting himself as a certified attorney in California.
In a police department record of the investigation, a Burbank Police Department officer details how Shaker allegedly manipulated others and misrepresented himself before his arrest and eventual conviction.
The investigating officer first learned about the situation through a Syrian woman who had reported to the Burbank Police Department that an attorney, Shaker, had forced her to have sex with him. That case was dismissed by the district attorney's office on 29 October 2008 due to a “lack of corpus,” or physical evidence that can be used against an accused person.
“During that investigation, I discovered that Mr. Shaker was presenting himself as an attorney and representing clients in divorce cases, immigration matters and citizenship issues,” the police officer writes in his report, filed on the same day the sexual coercion accusation was dismissed.
On 14 November, the officer spoke with the Syrian accuser and her husband at the police station to try to learn more.
“[The wife] acknowledged that she had willingly gone with Mr. Shaker to a hotel room and ended up having sexual intercourse with him. This has happened twice,” he writes. “She explained that she has no friends or family in the Country [sic] and feels helpless.”
The couple also gave the investigating officer Shaker's business card and an advertisement from a local newspaper written in both English and Arabic stating that he was a member of the “International Bar Association.” A photocopy of the advertisement included in the police report, as well as a different advertisement provided by Bushra, clearly identify Shaker as a “Member of the International Bar Association” and offer aid with citizenship, green cards and asylum, among other legal services.
The Syrian couple also noted that they had paid Shaker thousands of dollars for divorce and citizenship legal work but that he had not rendered them any services.
Later that day, the officer received an eight-page letter from Shaker's attorney stating that his client would not follow through with any police interviews. Following the first four pages of letters from past clients thanking Shaker for his work was a curious two-page letter from a “Rosie Santander,” stating “what a respected individual Mr. Shaker is.”
Before the rest of the report becomes redacted, the officer writes that he confirmed with the California State Bar Association that Shaker was not an attorney in California. In addition, he learned from the State Bar office that while it is not illegal to assist people with “immigration and citizenship issues … you do have to be an attorney in this State [sic] to represent divorce cases in court.”
Nearly a year after the investigation began, Shaker accepted a plea bargain with the Los Angeles Superior Court and was given three years probation conditional upon completing 800 hours of community service and paying a small fine. A few additional stipulations were added to his probation: “Defendant is further ordered not to provide any legal services requiring a state bar license. … Do not advertise self as a member of International Bar Association. … Do not advertise to provide any services that require a state bar license.”
178 S. Victory Blvd.
At one point in the police investigation, the Syrian couple brought to the police station a local paper called “Al Arab,” which featured advertisements from Shaker's brother Hossam, or Sam. Hossam is an accountant and works in the same office as Tarek Shaker, according to Bushra. In addition to Hossam's advertisement for “tax and financial planning services” was an ad for “Rosie Shaker advertising real estate sales.”
“All three listed the same address of 178 S. Victory Blvd., Suite #105, Burbank,” writes the officer. This address is also listed as the business address of “Homeland Financial” on Shaker's police report, which Bushra says was a mortgage company Shaker was operating at the time.
In the police report, the officer points out that Rosie is a Latina female who doesn't know Arabic, which would have made it impossible for her to have overheard the Arabic conversations between Tarek and the Syrian victim. Though the officer does not mention this in the report, it can thus be inferred that Rosie's letter to the officer attempted to defend Shaker by claiming she had heard the conversations in question.
“It should be noted that by what was known and represented up to this point, Mr. Shaker is married to two women,” the detective writes. “Both are Hispanic. There are even photos of Mr. Shaker with his children and possibly another wife … in the newspaper shown at a party.”
Shaker at some point headed an organization called the Egyptian-American Friendship Association, whose Facebook page reads, “The specific purpose of this corporation is to strengthen and improve the affiliation and maintain harmony among the members of the Egyptian American Community,” [sic] and identifies Hossam Shaker, Tarek's brother, as its creator and administrator.
The organization's website looks like it hasn't been updated in years. The contact page identifies Tom Shaker as the organization's contact person and provides his phone number and email address. Without listing a date, the page advertises an “Egyptian National Day” celebration, a gala dinner that implores donors to send in financial sponsorship forms via fax or email to Rosie Santander, who is described as the EAFA (Egyptian-American Friendship Association) Associate Meeting Director.
The contact address for the Egyptian-American Friendship Association is 178 S. Victory Blvd., Suite #105, Burbank, CA.
The Burbank office was contacted multiple times by Egypt Independent for more information and to relay the wish to speak with Shaker. Shaker did not respond to these requests for comment.
The staff provided conflicting information. In one call, a staffer who asked not to be named said that the office belonged to Shaker's attorney, Daniel Rinaldelli. The staffer confirmed that Shaker was the head of the Egyptian-American Friendship Association, and that the staffer did not know if Shaker was currently in the US or Egypt.
In another phone conversation, a woman named Rosie answered. When this reporter asked about Shaker's recent appointment to Parliament, she responded: “I don't know that, sir; I know he's not in the office right now.” She was then asked if she knows who Tarek or Tom Shaker is.
“I only answer the phone sir,” Rosie responded. “I have no idea who's who.”
Quid pro quo
All the evidence for this story was obtained from public record, which raises questions as to why a convicted criminal was appointed to Egypt's legislative body. Michael Mounir, president of the US Copts Association, a Virginia-based Coptic-Egyptian advocacy non-profit organization, believes Shaker was appointed because he defended the SCAF on Egyptian television after clashes between anti-government protesters and military forces around Tahrir Square in December.
“This seems to be a reward for Mr. Shaker for his role in that mockery that was sold to the Egyptian media as a group that represents Egyptians abroad,” Mounir writes in an email message. “The whole appointment seems to be a thank-you gift for [his] service to the SCAF.”
In a 13 January call-in interview with Egypt's “Pulse of the Church” program on the Aghapy satellite channel, Shaker told a panel that the portrayal of the SCAF by the American media stirred up a lot of anger against the council.
“When I met with [the SCAF] and we discussed the issue and all of its details, the SCAF assured me that no bullets were fired at the protesters,” Shaker said.
Shaker's defense of the military came just a few months after army forces were captured on video running over mostly Coptic protesters in front of the Maspero state television building.
“They were just using him to justify state-sponsored terrorism,” Bushra, the immigration lawyer who is also a Copt, says of Shaker's interview. “If the comment comes from Christians then they use it against them, saying, 'Here, a Christian said it. It must be true.'”
Shaker indeed appears well-connected to Egypt's political and religious establishment. In a 1 February 2012 article in Euro Arab Press, a journalist, Gamil Youssef, is quoted as telling the Egyptian channel Tahrir TV about Shaker's deep ties to the Coptic Church.
“Tarek Shaker receives special treatment from the Coptic Church. And I know personally through communications with a number of bishops in the US that every time Egyptian officials meet with [Pope Shenouda III, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church], they insist that he be seated to the left of the pope,” Youssef said. These allegations could not be independently confirmed.
The article features a picture of Shaker and Shenouda seated next to each other. Gamil also said that prior to the 25 January uprising, the Coptic Church presented a list to Mubarak of Copts it wanted appointed to the Egyptian Parliament. Shaker was on the list.
Though Egypt Independent could not locate a Facebook account for Tarek, one does exist for his brother, Hossam. The page, which is now more restricted, had featured pictures of Tarek and Hossam meeting with, among others, Pope Shenouda and Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the grand sheikh of Al-Azhar. And a few weeks ago, Bushra posted a picture on his Twitter account of Egyptian military chief of staff and SCAF second-in-command Sami Anan attending Hossam's wedding.
Regardless of whether Shaker is ousted from People's Assembly, Mounir says it will mean little to Copts both in and outside of Egypt.
“He was never meant to be a voice for the Copts,” he writes, “but rather the military man inside the Copts and the Parliament.”
This article previously listed Hossam Shaker's occupation incorrectly. He is an accountant.