Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.
The media dubbed her the Republican Huma Abedin. She’s been one of the most powerful women in two Republican administrations. She’s friends with Valerie Jarrett. And you’ve never heard her name.
Flash back to the spring of this year.
Cameras flashed as Aya Hijazi sat next to President Trump. Media reports described her as an imprisoned rescue worker who had been released from Egypt after administration intervention.
Aya Hijazi was also the photogenic face of a campaign against the post-Brotherhood Egyptian government. If you believed the stories, Hijazi had learned French and Spanish while in prison. Photos showed her reading Maya Angelou's ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ behind bars. Snaps from that calculated photoshoot would be used to illustrate countless media sob stories about her plight in prison.
Mohamed Hassanein, her husband, received far less attention. As did the other arrested members of the Belady Foundation which had been accused of using street children in Muslim Brotherhood riots.
Aya’s cause was quickly taken up by all the usual suspects.
Hillary Clinton had met with President Sisi and called for Hijazi’s release. Rep. Gerry Connolly, the go-to guy for Muslim Brotherhood front groups, had blustered, "The Egyptian government mistakes American resolve.” Avril Haines, the former indie bookstore owner who had been appointed by Obama as Deputy Director of the CIA and Deputy National Security Advisor, despite having no relevant experience, met with Hijazi’s family and issued a statement demanding her release.
None of this meant that Hassanein and Hijazi were guilty of the charges. Politically they appeared to be closer to the left than to the Islamists. Hijazi hasn’t worn a hijab outside of her imprisonment.
But the larger question is whose interests were being served by bringing her to the White House?
In a PBS interview, Aya Hijazi challenged President Trump’s praise for Egypt’s leader. She accused him of keeping “thousands of wrongly imprisoned people” in prison. “It’s not just for fighting terrorism,” she insisted. And she made a point of correcting President Trump on the Muslim Brotherhood.
"It seemed like he had this idea that... it was at the time of the Muslim Brotherhood," Hijazi said. "So, he was like, 'So was your arrest — be at the time of the Brotherhood?' And I said, no. And then he said, 'Oh, it was at the time of Sisi.' And he was taken aback. It seemed, like, different to what he had in mind."
The media had agitated for Hijazi because it served its agenda of opposing Sisi and supporting the Brotherhood. Bringing Hijazi to the White House appeared to serve the same agenda. She was meant as an object lesson to Trump that the real bad guys weren’t the Brotherhood, but the Egyptian military.
Hijazi was escorted back from Egypt by Dina Habib Powell. And Habib Powell was there sitting opposite Ivanka and Jared at the meeting with President Trump. In the media, Powell is often associated with Ivanka. And indeed, Ivanka posed with Hijazi in a widely circulated photo. But she is also so much more.
Dina Habib Powell was an influential figure in the Bush administration. The Egyptian-American immigrant had served as a gatekeeper for George W. Bush. If you wanted a job, you went through her. Barely 30, Habib Powell had more power than many of the big Bush era names you do know.
Then she took on the mission of promoting America to the Muslim world at the State Department. There were cultural exchanges with Iran and money for Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority. Afterward it was off to make millions through philanthropy at the Goldman Sachs Foundation.
When President Trump took office, Avril Haines was replaced by K. T. McFarland at the National Security Council. McFarland had worked at the Pentagon under Reagan and her views on Islamic terror were forthright. "Global Islamist jihad is at war with all of Western Civilization," she said after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. She called for profiling terrorists and an end to the big lie of political correctness.
"They have launched a guerrilla war against us in our own neighborhoods. They shout 'Allahu Akbar, The Prophet is Avenged.' We’re still calling it 'workplace violence,' 'senseless killings' or 'man-caused disasters.' Our leaders insist these are criminal acts, not acts of war."
Of the Muslim Brotherhood, McFarland correctly pointed out that, “The Muslim Brotherhood was the godfather of al-Qaeda. The number 2 guy in al-Qaeda was Muslim Brotherhood.”
When Flynn was forced out and McMaster took over, there was no room for her views at the NSC.
At an NSC meeting, H.R. McMaster insisted that Islamic terror had nothing to do with Islam. The use of “radical Islamic terrorism” was a mistake. McFarland was in attendance.
Before long, McMaster had pushed out McFarland and replaced her with Dina Habib Powell.
Habib Powell had all the right friends. Like Valerie Jarrett. Arianna Huffington praised the White House for bringing her in. Her ex-husband heads up Teneo Strategy: the organization created by the same man who made the Clinton Foundation happen and which employed Huma Abedin.
You could see her posing next to Huma, Arianna and a Saudi princess. You can see her photographed at the American Task Force of Palestine gala. The ATFP was originally Rashid Khalidi’s American Committee on Jerusalem. Khalidi was the former PLO spokesman at the center of the Obama tape scandal. And Habib Powell was there as a presenter at the Middle East Institute after a speech by the PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi.
Unlike McFarland, Habib Powell had no national security background. But though her parents were Christians, she had the “right” views on Islam. In Egypt, she had described how Bush after September 11 had, “visited a mosque, took off his shoes and paid his respects.” "I see the president talk of Islam as a religion of peace, I see him host an iftar every year.” Habib Powell had attended such an iftar dinner.
While President Trump fights to restrict Muslim immigration, back in the Bush era, Habib Powell had bragged on CNN, “Over 90% of student visas are now issued in under a week, and that is in the Middle East.”
Habib Powell has been described as the Republican Huma Abedin. And she was quoted as saying that Abedin “feels a deep responsibility to encourage more mutual understanding between her beliefs and culture and American culture.”
Within a short time, Habib Powell became the Senior Counselor for Economic Initiatives, the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy and was being put forward as Chief of Staff. If Kelly doesn’t work out, the effort to move her up will resume. And then the gatekeeper will be back at the gate.
Dina Habib Powell is a deep part of the Republican establishment. Her top role at the NSC represents McMaster’s vision for our approach to Islam. And it’s an echo of the failed approach of the Bush years. Flynn made the NSC into a tool that matched Trump’s vision. McMaster is remaking it to match Jeb Bush’s vision.
The Hijazi stunt was the public manifestation of an effort to pull Trump away from President Sisi and guide him into the same old swamp of pushing democracy and political change in Egypt. There is worse taking place behind the scenes. The NSC purge of personnel who understand the threat of Islamic terrorism is not a mere political power struggle, it’s policy. McMaster is just the public face of it.
The swamp is deeper than most understand or imagine. When you come to the city of government buildings and lobbyists, it’s all around you. And if you take a wrong step, it sucks you in. The real power doesn’t belong to the politicians you elect, but to bureaucrats and staffers, to the people who, like Huma Abedin or Dina Habib Powell, are talented at knowing the right people.
When we talk about the swamp, it’s not an organization. It’s a way of life. If you’re not fighting the swamp all the time, if you don’t wake up resisting it and go to bed fighting free of it, you will drown in it.