Aya Hegazy’s Case Validates Trump’s Political Effectiveness

‘Even the President cannot manipulate Egypt’s independent judiciary’ is a statement that was used quite often under former President Mubarak’s rule in response to international appeals calling for the release of Egyptian political prisoners who opposed the regime. Nevertheless, in their private conversations, many foreign politicians revealed that, for the most part, they did not accept the validity of this assertion. Actually, reading the content published in Egyptian state newspapers and watching its TV channels easily refutes this claim – and Aya’s recent release from prison disproves it further.

Like millions of young Egyptians in the wake of the 25 January 2011 revolution, Aya had caught a glimpse of hope and saw Egypt’s potential to become a democratic and modernized nation. She came home to be part of the Egyptian team that would contribute to this effort – the dream that millions of Egyptians are chasing (a large portion of Egyptians left their country because of the absence of democracy and genuine modernization). Aya distanced herself from any involvement in the political parties and movements that overwhelmed Egypt at that time. Her dream was to provide better shelter for Egyptian street children.

Unlike his predecessor, by working on having Aya released from prison then flying her immediately to the United States to meet with him, President Trump has clearly succeeded in applying a very effective policy during his first 100 days in office. More of a human rights advocate, former U.S. President Obama often declined to engage with Middle East leaders, leaving the region to struggle on its own. We don’t know the details of Aya’s release; however, the Trump team explained that this matter would only be discussed behind closed doors. Nevertheless, the pleasant outcome of a prisoner being set free has earned this team some credit and bolstered the United States’ standing as a key player in the region.

The Egyptian state has always worked on politically marginalizing Egyptians who hold dual nationalities, curtailing their political rights by prohibiting their membership in Parliament and barring them from the Cabinet. These policies have kept Egypt from advancing its status by availing itself of the services of many talented Egyptian figures with dual nationalities. Meanwhile, Aya’s release sends a hidden message: dual-nationality is certainly an advantage!  The question that we need to raise with our state is this: why would Egyptians holding dual nationalities be more loyal to their new country of residence, and why would there be a loyalty conflict the first place?

Most Egyptian citizens sympathized with Aya’s case and did not endorse the security apparatus’ allegations against her. Aya’s persecution discredited the implicit message continuously sent out by the state (that Egyptians will be better off if they stay away from politics) and replaced it with a new one: nobody is immune from security apparatus allegations. Egyptians who argue that foreign nations can play a constructive role in assisting Egypt to become more democratic now have a strong and valid argument.

Meanwhile, President Sisi has missed an opportunity to enhance his popularity –not only by not releasing Aya earlier, but also by not releasing thousands of other youngsters temporarily detained in prison without having been properly prosecuted. Such a move could have served to reengaging these youths in our social development projects. Young people’s ideas, energy and time should be exploited to add value to our country – yet the state is apparently only concerned with controlling society.

Egypt is currently struggling with many political and socioeconomic challenges, but the crucial pillar that we need to establish today is to ensure that justice is served through proper rule of law; a thing that we haven’t had for decades and that literally affects every single Egyptian citizen. The absence of justice will prompt Egyptians to revolt again. We have been living with poor economic conditions for decades and we know how to cope with limited incomes. What will trigger Egyptians’ anger once again are the substantial imperfections in our judicial system.

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