Free after having been detained in an Egyptian jail for nearly three years, Aya Hijazi was welcomed to the Oval Office on Friday in what the Trump administration cast as a diplomatic triumph.
“We are very happy to have Aya back home and it’s a great honor to have her in the Oval Office,” President Trump told reporters.
Hijazi, a dual American Egyptian citizen who founded a non-governmental organization to help Egyptian street children, was imprisoned in 2014 on what U.S. officials and human rights advocates said were unsubstantiated charges of human trafficking.
After multiple delays, Hijazi’s case finally was heard in an Egyptian court Sunday and she and her co-defendants were acquitted. She returned to the United States on Thursday on a U.S. government plane, accompanied by deputy national security advisor Dina Powell.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Friday said Trump and his team had “worked behind the scenes” to bring her home.
Trump’s recent welcome of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi, who has been widely criticized for cracking down on dissent and freedom of expression in his country, marked a significant thaw in relations between the U.S. and Egypt.
The Obama administration temporarily suspended a $1.3-billion aid package to the country after Sisi and the military seized power from the elected government led by the Muslim Brotherhood, which took office after the ouster of longtime Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak.
The Trump White House made it clear that it was willing to at least publicly downplay human rights concerns while instead prioritizing Egypt’s ability to help combat terrorism within its borders and in the broader region.
“We understand the concern, and I think those are the kind of things that I believe progress is made privately,” Spicer had told reporters as Sisi was visiting with Trump.
On Friday, Spicer said Trump had engaged directly on Hijazi’s behalf “and made it clear to the Egyptian government how important it was to him that this American be released and returned.” But he would not say if Trump had raised the issue to Sisi in their private meetings.
In an interview with Fox News during his visit to Washington, Sisi indicated that Hijazi’s case would be resolved in short order.
“Whenever there is a case within the authority for the president and according to the law and the constitution, we take action in it,” he said.