But this week, when 54-year-old U.S. citizen Mustafa Kassem died Monday after more than six years in an Egyptian prison, the White House remained silent. It was not clear if he thought Trump’s streak was over.
Kassem, who worked as a taxi driver in New York City, had smuggled a letter from the Tora prison of maximum security in Cairo that directly appealed to Trump. “I am putting my life in your hands,” he wrote, according to Sudarsan Raghavan of The Washington Post.
He was arrested in 2013 while visiting relatives in Cairo. His arrest coincided with a bloody repression of the Muslim Brotherhood by the government of President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, and Kassem was sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of terrorism that human rights groups say were fabricated.
That Kassem saw hope in Trump is logical. The president has been portrayed as unusually committed to the fate of US citizens detained abroad; He promoted the aforementioned presidential special envoy for hostage affairs, Robert O’Brien, to the post of National Security Advisor of the White House last year.
Since 2017, his administration has seen US citizens detained in Venezuela, Yemen, North Korea, Turkey, even Egypt, released with great fanfare. “We are very happy to have Aya at home,” he told reporters in April 2017, by greeting Aya Hijazi, a charity worker who had been detained in Egypt for almost three years.
But unlike Hijazi, Kassem will not visit the White House. Instead, in poor health and on hunger strike, he died. And there are many US citizens who remain in limbo abroad, about half a dozen others in Egypt alone. Their families also saw the tragic end of the struggle of this American citizen.
Paul Whelan, an American arrested by Russian security agents in December 2018, has been entering and leaving Moscow courts for more than a year, with little clarity about his fate. After news of Kassem’s death spread this week, his sister tweeted messages that directly criticized the policy of the US administration.
Trump’s approach to freeing American citizens has also been praised by the relatives of the jailed. Some argued that the high profile strategy was a welcome change to the quieter methods used by the Obama administration.
O’Brien, now one of Trump’s most prominent allies, was personally praised by some families who worked with him. “We know he is a good man,” Debra Tice, mother of the missing journalist, told The Post in September.
Trump’s intelligence about the show resulted in O’Brien being sent to try to help American rapper A $ AP Rocky after being arrested in Sweden last summer, despite the few signs that the rapper wanted the help of the President.
At an event to commemorate Kassem’s life on Wednesday, lawmakers and activists criticized Egypt for the death. Representative Peter T. King (RN.Y.), who represents the Kassem district and had received his letter to Trump, called for the imposition of sanctions on officials in Egypt, a key ally of the United States in the Middle East and a major recipient of foreign assistance from the United States.
Some argued that the United States had not provided the help that could have saved Kassem’s life. “Did the Trump administration properly use its influence? In my opinion, I don’t think so, “said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).
In fact, although both Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo presented their case to the Egyptian authorities, none of the resources had an impact. “Kassem was forgotten, even though he was an American,” Hijazi said Wednesday, almost three years after his release.
Although Kassem died in an Egyptian prison, Trump will face scrutiny after the death of the American man. Trump praised the authoritarian leader of Egypt, calling Sissi a “great president” and referring to him privately as “my favorite dictator,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
A tragic irony of Trump’s obvious interest in Americans detained abroad is that he may have given countries an incentive to attack US citizens, aware that doing so, at least for now, will distract the attention of a leader. world.
But, in addition, by presenting a score card for the “hostages” released, Trump has reduced the complicated process of freeing citizens abroad to a competitive game. Kassem’s death shows that it is the opposite.