An Egyptian-American NGO worker held in prison in Egypt for three years flew home to the U.S. late Thursday after her release was secured by the Trump administration in negotiations with the Egyptian government.
The Washington Post reported that President Trump and his staff had worked for weeks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to free Aya Hijazi, 30, and her husband, Egyptian national Mohamed Hassanein, after they were arrested in May 2014 on charges of child abuse and trafficking.
Human rights groups dismissed their arrests —which were followed by a series of verdict postponements and adjudications — as “bizarre” with Human Rights Watch branding the case against Hijazi and her colleagues from the Belady Foundation for Street Children “a travesty of justice.”
Hijazi’s lawyers told the Associated Press that the charity worker was released late Tuesday, two days after a court acquitted her of all charges.
Trump negotiated the release through what one unnamed senior White House official referred to as “discrete diplomacy.” The source explained that the president directly oversaw discussions with Cairo and no promises had been made in exchange for Hijazi’s freedom.
The official said assurances had been made at the “highest levels” of the Sissi government that “Egypt would use presidential authority to send her home,” the Washington Post reported.
The release of Hijazi and her husband is one of the rewards of the new administration’s policy of rapprochement with Cairo. Former President Barack Obama had distanced the U.S. from its longtime ally after the ousting of the country’s first democratically elected leader, Mohamed Morsi, by military strongman Sissi in 2013.
But in a symbolic break with the Obama era, Trump welcomed Sissi to the White House on April 3, declaring that he “has done a fantastic job,” despite widespread complaints over his human rights abuses and political crackdown.
Hijazi and her husband arrived at Joint Base Andrews at 10 p.m. Thursday. Hijazi and her brother, Basel, are due to meet with Trump and his family at the White House Friday.