“The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. From this moment on, it’s going to be #AmericaFirst.”
Donald Trump tweeted the above-mentioned words soon after he was sworn in as 45th President of the United States on January 20, 2017. It echoes recurring statements by the Trump administration, using “America First” rhetoric to allude to a general, albeit vague, policy that prioritizes American families, American interests, and American national security above all else.
That same day, one forgotten American marked two years and nine months in an Egyptian jail on trumped-up charges. After meeting and marrying an Egyptian national, Aya Hegazy, now a thirty-year-old dual citizen of Egypt and the United States, moved to Egypt and, together with her husband, founded a non-governmental organization, called the Belady Foundation, in 2013 to help Cairo’s innumerable street children.
On May 1, 2014, a police raid on the foundation’s headquarters resulted in the arrests of Hegazy, her husband, and several others. The defendants were placed in pre-trial detention and charged with human trafficking, sexual exploitation of children, using children in anti-government protests, and operating an unlicensed organization.
“The case of Aya Hijazi and her co-defendants has been nothing less than a travesty of justice,” Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director for Human Rights Watch, has noted. “Defendants have been unable to meet privately with lawyers, hearings have been repeatedly adjourned for long periods, while the court has routinely rejected, without explanation, numerous requests for release on bail, resulting in what appears to amount to arbitrary detention.”
While the original crackdown on Egyptian NGOs began under the military junta that governed the country after Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in 2011 – a couple of years before Hegazy set up the Belady Foundation – a more ruthless crackdown has taken form under President Abel Fattah el-Sisi’s reign.
In what has become a well-entrenched narrative in Egypt, U.S.-funded NGOs are at the helm of a foreign conspiracy that is responsible for the political instability of the last five years. This narrative, instigated by the government and perpetuated by state media, stands in stark contrast to the fact that Egypt, considered a strong American ally in the fight against terrorism, receives $1.3 billion annually in U.S. military aid.
It was hard enough for human rights organizations to get former President Barack Obama to speak up about Hegazy’s case during his second term in office. Today, under President Trump, a man that has called the most brutal dictator in modern Egyptian history, a “fantastic guy”, Hegazy’s chances for freedom have been dashed.
Two days ago, on April 3, 2017, as he welcomed Sisi to the White House, Trump unsurprisingly put aside concerns about Egypt’s human rights abuses. And so, Aya Hegazy, an American unjustly detained and blatantly persecuted by a foreign government, did not make the agenda. It seems, then, that Trump’s ‘America First’ principles are little more than empty rhetoric.
The final verdict in the trial of Aya Hegazy and her seven co-defendants is set for April 20, 2017.