American woman accused of exploiting children in protests
Beladi Organizaion logo - Photo Courtesy of Beladi Organizaion Official Facebook page

CAIRO: Aya Hegazy, a dual Egyptian-American citizen, was arrested with three others on charges of pushing street children to participate in protests, as well as operating an NGO without a license.

The four defendants were remanded to custody for four days pending investigations, which is scheduled to be renewed Tuesday, Hegazy’s lawer Alaa Farouk told The Cairo Post Monday.

The case began after a man was searching for his missing son, Khaled Abdel Aziz, the head of the juvenile crimes department at the Cairo Security Directorate, told Tahrir TV.

“By asking street children in the neighborhood, the man was informed that his son has been living in an apartment in Abdeen, downtown Cairo, at the headquarters of Beladi, an NGO,”   Abdel Aziz told the channel.

Al-Dostour news website reported that the 34-year-old man and his wife went to the apartment to claim their son but were allegedly assaulted by the members of the NGO.

The police arrived and arrested four employees of the organization, and also found approximately 20 children between the ages of 14 and 20, Youm7 reported.

Abdel Aziz told Tahrir TV the NGO had no official license.

The Beladi Foundation is located in Mohamed Mahmoud St, near Tahrir Square, and has an active website and Facebook page, which says its mission is to work with street children, and tackle harassment and other social problems. According to the website Beladi’s team is composed of eight members.

Hegazy, the organization’s founder, appeared in an interview March 24 on ONTV, with the presence of three children who told their story how they were rehabilitated in the foundation.

“We began working with street children last February. Our first encounter with them was in Ramsis,” Hegazy explained, adding that the organization was active in other fields three months before that.

“What we provide is a program for psychological rehabilitation, mainly because they suffered from drug addiction, sexual abuse, beating and violence on the streets,” Hegazy continued.

A forensic team from the prosecution authority inspected the apartment Monday, ONA News Agency stated, adding that the suspects are facing charges of forcefully detaining children against their will, and torturing them.

Hegazy said in her March interview that their biggest challenge is to keep children safe, as many are tempted to go back to the streets. She added that despite their best efforts, “the door is open” for those who wish to leave, adding that some children leave and return.

On Sunday evening, Mehwer TV channel interviewed some teenagers claiming they were living in the apartment the police raided.

The children claimed they were being instructed to participate in protests in exchange for money, approximately $7, for participating in protests, and an additional $28 USD if they throw stones. One of them said he decided to do both and was fully paid the promised amount.

In the post-Mohamed Morsi period, a number of newspapers have reported that “American mobs” were exploiting children to use them in favor of pro-Muslim Brotherhood protests. The children who spoke on TV said they had participated in a protest last April, in front of the Ithadeya Presidential Palace.

The protest was launched by activists demanding the end of the protest law and the release of detained political activist Ahmed Doma.

The issue of child exploitation in politics was first mentioned a couple of months ago, when videos showing children participating in pro-Brotherhood protests and raising the Raba’a sign, in addition to claiming their parents were killed in protests.

An incident in which children from an orphanage were photographed putting an army boot on their head during a march, a popular sign to express support for the army, drew some outrage.

Amnesty International released a report last February condemning arbitrary arrests that have been taking place following the ouster of the Brotherhood’s regime and former president Mohamed Morsi, saying “over 300 children have been thrown into prison in the intervening seven months,” and being subject to torture.

Additional reporting by Ahmed Ismail.

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