The Obama administration ignores an American imprisoned in Egypt

While pocketing $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid, the Egyptian government of Abdel Fatah al-Sissi is waging war against what it describes as an American-inspired plot to divide and destroy the country. The Obama administration’s response to this vicious campaign, which has included prosecuting U.S.-backed nongovernmental organization in Cairo and seeding the state media with poisonous anti-American propaganda, is to pretend that it isn’t happening.

Case in point: the American citizen Aya Hijazi of Alexandria, Va. Hijazi (sometimes spelled Hegazi), 29, has been imprisoned in Cairo without trial since May 2, 2014 — 801 days as of Monday. She was arrested with her husband and four other people for operating a nonprofit NGO, the Belady Foundation, which was dedicated to rescuing abandoned and homeless kids. Hijazi and her husband have been charged with sexually abusing the children and paying them to participate in anti-government demonstrations — allegations that Egyptian and international human rights groups have described as preposterous.

The real offense of this George Mason University graduate is to be an American who founded an Egyptian NGO — something that, in the eyes of the Egyptian security services, must make her part of the nefarious anti-Egyptian plot that Sissi and the regime’s ideologues imagine. She is, in essence, a prisoner in what Sissi has called the “fourth generation war” against what he thinks is U.S.-backed subversion.

And the Obama administration’s response to this gross persecution of an American? Absolute silence. When Hijazi was smeared as a sex criminal and a U.S. secret agent on Egyptian state television; when her pretrial detention passed Egypt’s legal limit of two years; when her case was postponed seven times on ridiculous pretexts — the State Department did not offer a single word of defense or public protest.

A U.S. consular official appeared at Hijazi’s last court hearing, on May 21. According to the family, the official was denied entrance to the courtroom — and the proceeding resulted in another long postponement, until Nov. 19. State had nothing to say about that, either.

Egyptian and international human rights groups have not been so tongue-tied. In May, a statement by 17 Egyptian human rights groups pointed out that the allegations of sexual abuse had been disproved by the government’s own forensic examinations — which probably explains why the trial has been repeatedly postponed. Instead, the statement said, Hijazi’s prolonged pretrial detention serves as “a form of punishment in and of itself, a means to retaliate against activists unrelated to any legal grounds for detention.”

On May 19, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights filed a petition on Hijazi’s case to the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. It said Hijazi had been subjected to “coercive interrogation techniques.” One security officer “hit her neck, bringing her to her knees, called her names, threatened to urinate into her vagina, and said that she should be sentenced to death or at minimum, life imprisonment.” The Obama administration remained silent.

Hijazi’s case resembles that of Jason Rezaian, the Post reporter who was arrested by Iranian authorities in the summer of 2014 and held until early this year. Rezaian, too, was subjected to a prolonged pretrial detention in violation of Iran’s laws, smeared as a U.S. spy in local media and abused by interrogators who attempted in vain to concoct a case against him. Yet President Obama himself publicly spoke up for Rezaian, calling his imprisonment unjust and demanding his release.

So what explains the failure to defend this equally innocent, if less prominent, U.S. citizen? The obvious answer is that the Obama administration is loath to acknowledge that the U.S. relationship with longtime ally Egypt has turned toxic — that Sissi treats Americans in Egypt as enemies even while pocketing bounteous U.S. aid. When I asked about the case last week, a State Department official who declined to be identified offered a technical excuse: State had not received written permission from Hijazi to speak out. That is disputed by Hijazi’s family, which says she signed a waiver; Rezaian also told me he never provided such written consent.

The State Department official provided me with this unattributable statement: “We are aware that Ms. Hijazi has been detained in Egypt for more than two years and is currently on trial. We have made clear to the Egyptian authorities our interest in a speedy conclusion to her case. Two years is too long to wait for justice.”

Hijazi is only one of thousands of peaceful activists who have been jailed by the Sissi regime. She is, however, an American, a citizen of a country that is heavily funding the very military establishment that is persecuting her. That the Obama administration is prepared to tolerate her unjust imprisonment so meekly is not only shameful; it’s an invitation to more attacks on innocent Americans.


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