As Hassanein replayed the speech to fellow inmates, a sense of hope washed over them, his wife recalled.
“They were really happy that he had the picture and that he talked about us,” she said. “And it wasn’t that he just talked about me specifically. More broadly, it was about the situation in Egypt and human rights and that felt good to them.”
Such a moment would not have happened had Rubio stuck with his plan to exit from political life following his humbling loss to Donald Trump in his home-state presidential primary in March of last year. But having won a second term in November, Rubio has picked up where he left off, this time with a bigger platform to advocate for human rights and a president who seems willing to listen.
Rubio, whose Cuban heritage has given him a personal connection to human rights abuses, has spent the past six months publicly flogging political crackdowns around the world, notably in Russia, China and Venezuela.
On this particular April evening, he wasn’t sure who would hear him — or care — as he forcefully spoke about the young Egyptian couple’s plight. But he also made sure he delivered the same message along with other lawmakers and advocates to the White House.
Within weeks, both were freed after a Cairo court acquitted them of the phony child abuse charges on which they’d been detained.
Success Not Easy to Measure
For Rubio, there was a sense of not only justice but vindication. He’s spoken plenty of times on the Senate floor about abuses in a number of countries, often focusing on a specific individual for effect.
But success is hard to measure. Many of those whom he’s advocated for remain in jail or under the boot of oppressors. A number have died. So he wasn’t sure how far his address on Aya and Mohamed would be circulated.
“Sometimes you think to yourself: ‘well no one’s watching C-SPAN. I’ll give the speech but you know it’s not going to be reported on. No one’s going to blog about it. Nobody’s going to write an article about what I said’,” he said during a recent interview. “But when you actually hear that it mattered to someone halfway around the world, I just think it reinforces that what we do is important and that it does matter. And it commits you to doing more.”
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