After three years of failure, President Donald Trump managed to do what Barack Obama could not: secure the release of six Americans imprisoned in Egypt on false charges.
The charity worker, Aya Hijazi, 30, and her husband, Mohamed Hassanein, along with four other humanitarian workers were released from a Cairo prison late Thursday. President Trump dispatched a military aircraft to bring Hijazi and her family home.
What were they arrested for? The couple had been imprisoned since May 1, 2014, on trumped-up charges of child abuse and trafficking. No evidence was presented against them and they were held without a single hearing or trial date set. Hijazi, who grew up in Virginia and graduate from George Mason University, was working for the Belady Foundation, which she and her husband founded as a rehabilitation center for street children in Cairo.
For years, the Obama administration pressed Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi’s government for their release. It took a “reset” of relations by Trump to change that. The Washington Post reports that Trump embraced Sissi at an April 3 meeting in the White House, praising the dictator’s leadership as “fantastic” and offered the government’s “strong backing.”
That was all it took. Egypt’s posture changed and last Sunday, a court in Cairo dropped all charges against Hijazi and the others.
The Washington Post: Freed Egyptian American prisoner returns home following Trump intervention
The Washington Times: Charity Worker Returns To US After 3-Year Detention In Egypt.
The Australian: Egypt frees American charity worker Aya Hijazi after three years in jail
What did Egypt get in return? Other than some nice words, nothing, apparently. A senior administration official said that no quid pro quo was offered, but that there were “assurances from the highest levels that whatever the verdict was, Egypt would use presidential authority to send her home.” The assumption was that a guilty verdict would result in a pardon. That the charges were dropped was a pleasant surprise.
— Mai El-Sadany (@maitelsadany) April 16, 2017
Trump was involved from start to finish. In addition to personally securing their release, Trump oversaw the release from custody of the Americans and their journey to the United States. Trump sent his personal military aide, Air Force Maj. Wes Spurlock, to escort team home on the plane to Washington.
The Americans – and former prisoners – touched down at Joint Base Andrews Thursday night. Hijazi and others are scheduled to meet with Trump on Friday, with daughter Ivanka and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who was also following Hijazi’s plight.
What’s the reaction? “It’s been a roller coaster of emotions the past couple of days,” Hijazi’s brother, Basel Hijazi said in a telephone interview Thursday from aboard the plane. “We’re crying with relief to have them out.”
He added: “We’re very grateful that President Trump personally engaged with the issue. Working closely with the Trump administration was very important for my family at this critical time. It let us be reunited as a family. We’re so grateful.”
How did it work? A senior Trump official said the release was the product of Trump’s “discreet diplomacy,” cultivating warm relations with strongmen by avoiding public pronouncements on human rights that might alienate them.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who said he recently advocated for Hijazi’s release in his own talks with Sissi and was briefed on the latest negotiations, said Trump “handled it the way things like this should be handled.”