Trump turns blind eye to atrocity
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Just before dawn on Aug. 14, 2013, Egyptian security forces surrounded a makeshift encampment of more than a thousand protesters in Rabaa Square in Cairo. They fired tear gas and issued a hasty order for the protesters to disperse. Then they blocked the exits. 

What happened next should have been the top priority for President Donald Trump’s meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fatteh el-Sisi this week. But it wasn’t even on the agenda. The security forces opened fire. The protesters, including hundreds of women and children, didn’t have a chance. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 817 were murdered in one of the deadliest mass killings in modern times.

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When General el-Sisi overthrew the democratically-elected Morsi government in July of 2013, I was a lonely voice in Congress willing to condemn an unlawful and undemocratic coup d’etat. I condemned it not because I supported Morsi or his actions during his brief presidency. I condemned the coup and subsequent military dictatorship because it was clear it would progress as such dictatorships always progress – a never-ending cycle of repression and violence that grinds away year after year, causing untold human suffering and ultimately leading to greater instability by fomenting extremism.

Since the unadulterated brutality of the Rabaa Massacre, el-Sisi has fine-tuned the gears of his repressive machine. Journalists and human rights workers, including a handful of my own constituents, have been swept up and imprisoned on trumped up charges. Opposition political parties have been beaten into submission, both literally and figuratively. And many of the same young, liberal activists who cheered General el-Sisi as they led the fight to overthrow both Mubarak and Morsi have, in a dose of tragic irony, been tortured, imprisoned, and disappeared. While el-Sisi has crushed peaceful political opponents, extremists have flourished, with terrorist activity in the Sinai increasing during his tenure.

In my view, the Obama administration didn’t do enough to rein in el-Sisi’s brutality. But they at least made efforts, including temporarily cutting off military aid, refusing to grant him an official visit, and fighting for the release of Americans, like my constituent Mohamed Soltan, who were wrongfully swept up in el-Sisi’s mass arrests. President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want NYT in the White House Veterans group backs lawsuits to halt Trump's use of military funding for border wall Schiff punches back after GOP censure resolution fails MORE proved this week that he will do none of those things. The decision to abandon our role supporting global human rights is tragic and will have real human cost, including to Americans ensnared in el-Sisi’s web.

Take the case of Aya Hijazi, a Northern Virginian who has been illegally detained for more than 33 months on trumped up charges. Her apparent crime? Starting a non-profit to help homeless children in Cairo. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and I have fought for her release and I was hopeful that this week would be an opportunity for the Trump administration to demonstrate leadership and press her case.  But according to reports, the White House chose to remain silent.

John Winthrop, President Kennedy, and finally President Ronald Reagan borrowed from Matthew 5:14 when they reminded us “that we shall be as a city upon a hill – the eyes of all people are on us.” If we are to be that city upon a hill, we must always remember that the eyes of all people are on us. And right now, the world just saw our president turn a blind eye to a brutal regime responsible for the massacre of innocents, the unlawful jailing of American and Egyptian citizens, and the curtailment of the most basic and precious human rights.

Connolly represents Virginia's 11th District and is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.