Egyptian-American Aid Worker, Released From Cairo Jail, Returns To U.S.

Egyptian-American Aid Worker, Released From Cairo Jail, Returns To U.S.

An Egyptian-American aid worker and her Egyptian husband have returned to the U.S. after being imprisoned for nearly three years in Egypt, over charges of child abuse that were widely regarded as specious. U.S. officials had unsuccessfully advocated for Aya Hijazi’s release for years. When Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi visited President Trump at the White House earlier this month, officials said Hijazi’s case would be among the topics of discussion. The Washington Post reports that Trump and his aides “worked for several weeks” to negotiate Hijazi’s release. A few weeks after Sissi visited Washington, a Cairo court dropped the charges against the couple. Hijazi was released Tuesday, her lawyer tells NPR. Now Hijazi and her husband are back in the U.S. They arrived Thursday night at Joint Base Andrews on a military flight from Cairo, a spokesman for the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization tells NPR. RFK Human Rights has been working with Hijazi’s family to lobby for the couple’s release. A graduate of Virginia’s George Mason University, Hijazi moved to Cairo with her husband, Mohamed Hassanein. In 2013, they launched a nonprofit, Beladi, that cared for and educated street children. They were arrested in 2014 and charged with abusing the children in their care. Prosecutors never proved their case; instead, the trial was repeatedly delayed, extending Hijazi and Hassanein’s time in prison. Hijazi’s mother told NPR the charges were completely unfounded. “She was very strict about no slapping, no beating, no cursing, no cussing of these kids,” Naglaa Hosny told NPR’s Leila Fadel in 2015. And she did not allow any of the volunteers to call them awlad shawaraa — street kids. She told them they are awlad beladi — the children of my country.” When Hijazi, Hassanein and five other people were arrested, Hijazi was hit during her interrogation. “She did not cry,” Hosny said of her daughter. “She’s a tough one.” But when authorities read the accusations of physical and sexual abuse of the children, “that’s when she started crying.” Human rights groups said the charges were unfounded, and that the arrests were part of a crackdown on nongovernmental organizations. “A government forensic report provided by Hijazi’s lawyer concluded there were no signs of sexual abuse when the children would’ve been at the shelter,” Leila reported in 2015. Years passed and the couple remained in jail, without a trial. “The international human rights group Human Rights Watch says witnesses for the prosecution disappeared or recanted, and [Hijazi] w…