Nine months ago, my parents took a vacation trip to Northern Egypt. They’d barely spent a day with their newborn granddaughter before being arrested without warrant by Egyptian security services, who’ve since disappeared them both into the country’s notorious prison system. In over 250 days of detention, neither have been charged with any crimes and an Egyptian judge just extended their detention for another 45 days. It’ll take nothing less than a focused effort by the Trump administration to free them.
As their daughter, the past nine months have been hell. My parents are two of Egypt’s approximately 60,000 political prisoners. They’re good people who’ve never committed a crime in their lives. After graduating from the University of Texas, they worked hard to raise and educate my two siblings and me. Both permanent residents of the US, they dreamed of helping shape an Egypt that respects the rights and liberties of its people.
Unfortunately, since the 2011 Arab Spring protests, Egypt’s infamous security forces have arrested enough activists and dissidents to swell the country’s prison population by 1200% percent. Amnesty International and many others have documented the torture and inhuman conditions that inmates are forced to live through in the country’s cruel detention system.
My mother Ola al-Qaradawi has been locked in solitary confinement for 24 hours a day in the worst women’s prison in Egypt. Amnesty has confirmed that my mother’s tiny cell has no ventilation, no bed, and no toilet. She’s allowed a five-minute break everyday to visit the putrid prison bathroom. As a result, my mother is eating and drinking less because she’s not allowed to relieve herself outside of that brief window. She has also been physically and verbally abused, but hundreds of days of isolation with barely any human contact is arguably even worse than physical torture. As a result, her health has severely deteriorated. Similarly, my father Hosam Khalaf’s conditions are no better and he’s currently being denied necessary medical care.
My mother is a Qatari citizen and she has been denied the consular assistance to which she is entitled. They’ve not been allowed to see any family members and the only interactions they’ve had with the outside world are a few minutes with lawyers. By all indication, there’s no aspect of their detention that’s respects either Egyptian or international law. Convicted felons are treated better throughout the world. Both have been held under vague allegations of “terrorism.” They have eight American citizen family members, including myself, and we have urged the United States to help us.
We are thankful for actions taken, but not enough has been done. The US cut $97 million in aid to Egypt and delayed another $195 million last August, citing human rights abuses — presumably the same kind that are being forced onto my parents right now. Yet the more than 20 Americans and legal permanent residents continue to be detained with impunity. Now, more of this aid needs to be denied. The cruel Egyptian regime led by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has a human rights record dismal enough to make it a leading abuser in the broader region.
Egypt’s annual appropriation of $1.3 billion aid is, in part, conditioned on is meeting serious human rights standards, thanks to Senator Patrick Leahy. Yet the Trump administration, must tie the provision of this aid to the resolution of these outstanding prisoner cases. Of course, it is always hard to free arbitrarily detained Americans. But those in my parents’ situation need President Trump to force the Egyptians’ hand in the name of human rights and the rule of law, just as he successfully did in the case of Aya Hijazi.
If the troublesome years following the Arab Spring have amounted to anything, it has brought back the necessary reminder that leaders like Sisi who operate with no basic regard for human dignity can only be checked by the combined political will of the international community. President Trump wants to “Make America Great Again.” If our country truly wants to be great, then America should be at the forefront of ensuring basic human rights are respected within its sphere of influence.
Instead, those who suffer as my parents suffer now — in Egypt and elsewhere — continue to languish in the putrid, inhuman detention facilities administered by those who’ve torn them away from their families. Their very lives now depend on the courage and willingness of US global leadership.