An Egyptian-American charity worker has been released from prison in Cairo after three years behind bars. The American citizen returned home to the United States late Thursday.
“President Trump and his aides worked for several weeks with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi to secure the freedom of Aya Hijazi, 30, a U.S. citizen, as well as her husband, Mohamed Hassanein, who is Egyptian, and four other humanitarian workers,” reports The Washington Post. “Trump dispatched a U.S. government aircraft to Cairo to bring Hijazi and her family to Washington.”
Trump apparently succeeded where former president Obama failed. The Post continues:
The Obama administration unsuccessfully pressed Sissi’s government for their release. It was not until Trump moved to reset U.S. relations with Egypt by embracing Sissi at the White House on April 3 — he publicly hailed the autocrat’s leadership as “fantastic” and offered the U.S. government’s “strong backing” — that Egypt’s posture changed. Last Sunday, a court in Cairo dropped all charges against Hijazi and the others.
According to White House officials, this wasn’t your classic Obama-era quid pro quo transaction or controversial prisoner exchange. Unlike Obama, who infamously traded five senior Taliban Gitmo detainees for U.S. army deserter Bowe Bergdahl in 2014, Trump personally oversaw Hijazi’s release and received assurances from Cairo that the prisoner release was a gesture of good faith.
We received “assurance from the highest levels [of Sissi’s government] that whatever the verdict was, Egypt would use presidential authority to send her home,” an unidentified senior administration told the Post.
Trump reportedly sent his military aide, Air Force Maj. Wes Spurlock, “to escort Hijazi and her family on the plane home to Washington,” according to the Post.
A Virginia native, Hijazi served as an aid worker for the Belady Foundation in Cairo. She and her husband set up a rehabilitation center for abandoned and impoverished children in the city.
But Hijazi’s work caught the attention of Egyptian authorities in 2014 when she was detained alongside her husband and fellow aid workers on May 1 of that year on trumped-up charges of child abuse and human trafficking. Stripped of due process and basic rights, Hijazi was sent to prison without a shred of evidence to justify her detainment. It’s unclear why the Sissi regime threw these aid workers in prison, but it is possible that their work, shining a bright light on the plight of Egypt’s forgotten street children, made Cairo look bad and attracted unwanted attention to the government. In prison, Hijazi and her colleagues were allegedly abused at the hands of prison guards.
Hijazi’s release comes as Secretary of Defense James Mattis tours the Middle East and reasserts America’s alliance with Sunni partners that have felt abandoned and neglected by the Obama administration’s diplomatic pivot toward Shiite Iran.