WaPo: Trump's Sissi embrace wins freedom for jailed American in Egypt

An American woman held in Egypt for almost three years has been acquitted of abuse charges related to a charity she and her husband ran for homeless children in the country — and her family is “extremely grateful” to Donald Trump for her release. CBS News reports that Aya Hijazi is on her way home, and free of the “bogus” charges that arose during the political maelstrom of Egypt’s Arab Spring era:

The lawyer of Egyptian-American charity worker Aya Hijazi says she has been released from prison after nearly three years of detention.

Taher Abol Nasr told The Associated Press she was released late Tuesday, two days after a court acquitted her of charges of child abuse that were widely dismissed as bogus by human rights groups and U.S. officials. …

President Trump did not publicly mention the case when he met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi earlier this month, but a senior White House official had said ahead of the meeting that the case would be addressed.

Apparently, he did. The family’s attorney told Fox & Friends that the family credited Trump’s “personal engagement” on the issue, as well as the legal team in Egypt. After meeting with Sissi, the case got fast-tracked into court with a new judge, who let Hijazi go.

The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Karen DeYoung remind readers that Barack Obama had tried to get Hijazi freed as well, but his relationship with Sissi (also spelled Sisi) was hardly friendly. The Obama administration had considered the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohammed Morsi as the legitimate Egyptian government, and dragged its feet in recognizing the Sissi government, and refused to sell Egypt fighter jets it had earlier arranged. A full year after the coup, Sissi offered to join the anti-ISIS coalition if Obama made good on the earlier deal, and only then did the relationship begin to thaw.

Trump’s embrace of Sissi provided quite the contrast, and that made the difference, according to Rucker and DeYoung:

The Obama administration unsuccessfully pressed Sissi’s government for their release. It was not until Trump moved to reset U.S. relations with Egyptby 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. …

A senior administration official said that no quid pro quo had been offered for Hijazi’s release but that there had been “assurance from the highest levels [of Sissi’s government] that whatever the verdict was, Egypt would use presidential authority to send her home.” The official said the U.S. side interpreted that to mean that a guilty verdict and sentencing would be followed by a pardon from Sissi, but they were pleasantly surprised.

Even if one sees Sissi’s strongman rule as an improvement over the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempt to transform Egypt into a bastion of radical Islam and a base of operations for subsidiary groups as Hamas — and it is — can’t exactly ignore the dynamics of that “pleasant surprise.” Egypt has returned to a more US-friendly position, but it’s doing so as a Mubarak-style autocracy, one that apparently can determine how the judiciary rules for its own political advantage. That’s realpolitik and perhaps the best we can hope for in the short run, but it points out that Egypt still has the potential for another explosion down the road. Without the development of real democratic institutions and free political movements, we’ll eventually come back to the calculus of which side can outfight each other in the streets.

For now, though, we can rejoice that an American held on bogus charges is coming home, and the cost for it was only to acknowledge that Sissi is in position to do us a lot of favors down the road and might be the most moderate of our Muslim allies in the region. That doesn’t seem like a very high price, but if Sissi was that much of a friend, one has to wonder why it took this long to get Hijazi out of prison in the first place.

Hijazi will meet with Trump, as well as Jared and Ivanka Kushner, later today at the White House.