Our congressman, U.S. Rep. Donald S. Beyer, Jr., who represents the 8th District of Virginia that includes the City of Falls Church, spent the last day of a spring congressional recess Friday touring four important entities in and around Falls Church. There was a little extra bounce in his step as the news came shortly before his arrival that Falls Church resident Ali Hijazi had been released by the Egyptian government after being held without formal charges for three years. Beyer played a big role in bringing pressure to bear from the U.S. concerning her case.
The day began last Friday with personalized tours of two local small but innovative businesses right in downtown Falls Church, Viget, a digital agency, and New Editions Consulting. In the afternoon, Beyer’s tour continued to the Columbia Baptist Church’s food pantry at its satellite facility in the Culmore section of Greater Falls Church, and then to the robotics team at Falls Church High School.
In addition to a half-hour exclusive interview with the News-Press at Panera Bread, Beyer stopped by the headquarters of his family-owned business, run in partnership with his brother, long-time City resident Mike Beyer. For years known as Don Beyer Volvo, named for the brothers’ dad, it has recently morphed into Beyer Automotive, as the dealership now sells a variety of brand names at its growing number of Northern Virginia locations.
Beyer, in the midst of his second term as the region’s congressman, has taken a high profile role in the U.S. House of Representatives for his critiques of the new Trump administration’s assaults on the environment, in particular. More recently he’s taken up the cause of demanding the removal of Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner because of glaring omissions on his clearance form for a government job, and, of course, pressing for release of Trump’s tax returns.
Beyer told the News-Press that it is unconscionable for Kushner to have failed to make any mention of his meetings with Russian officials on the form.
“I’ve had to fill out that form myself,” said Beyer, who served four years as the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland during the Obama years. The standard form, he said, is 99 pages long and asks for details about all contacts with anyone who could conceivably be related in any manner to someone the FBI or other government agencies might want to know about. It is virtually impossible, he said, that Kushner would not know he was failing to report important information when he omitted all references to meetings with Russian officials.
But most on his mind was the Hijazi development. She was resting at the Falls Church home of an in-law last Friday, returning to the U.S. having been released by Egyptian authorities after being held in an Egyptian prison for three years with no charges or legal proceedings. Beyer said he was “deeply gratified” by the release, having spearheading efforts here to win her release.
“This wonderful news was a long time coming,” Beyer said. “I feel a deep sense of joy and relief for Aya, her husband, their colleagues at Belady [the non-profit they created in Egypt to help homeless youth–ed.] who were imprisoned, as well as Aya’s mother Naglaa, sister Alaa and brother Basel. I offer my humble thanks and congratulations today to them and to her many friends who worked so hard to raise the profile of this case and pressure the Egyptian government to gain her freedom.”
Hijazi, who is Egyptian-American, was raised in Falls Church and attended George Mason University. Upon graduation, she and her husband organized a non-profit in Cairo to help street children with basic services, but with the elevation of the Sisi regime to power in Egypt, there was a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and also on non-Egyptian non-profit organizations. Hijazi was arrested in May 2014 on charges of “child endangerment,” accused to recruiting street children for the Muslim Brotherhood and human trafficking, all “preposterous” claims, Beyer said, but there were no formal charges or court appearances.
Beyer brought up the case in letters and meetings with the Obama administration and helped organize pressure for her release with a September 2016 press conference, and won support in the effort from former Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry and other U.S. legislators including Tim Kaine, Marco Rubio and Gerry Connolly and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Foundation to apply pressure that eventually succeeded. With no announcement or explanation, Hijazi’s jail cell was simply unlocked and she was allowed to leave.
According to Beyer, Hijazi and her husband are considering returning to Egypt to resume their work. “Even as we offer thanks for Aya’s release, we remember those who still suffer unjust imprisonment in Egypt and elsewhere. That we have won a battle in the cause of human rights does not lessen the need to speak out and fight for justice around the world,” Beyer said.