Shannon Hughes, a 24-year-old American woman, is on her way back to the United States after being reported missing for almost 36 hours by her family and the US embassy in Cairo. Airport officials have confirmed that she was detained at the airport for possessing a suspected forged Egyptian visa, although details of the story are still missing.
Hughes, who is finishing her degree in Journalism at Hunter College in New York, originally flew to Egypt on Christmas day to participate in the Gaza Freedom March that commemorated the one-year anniversary of Israel’s “Cast Lead” operation in which over 1,400 Palestinian, mostly civilians, were killed.
Hughes traveled to Jerusalem on 6 January and stayed with a Palestinian family for two weeks, before making her way back to Egypt to catch her plane from Cairo to New York on the 22nd.
Kristen Carr, Shannon’s aunt, was in constant communication with her niece throughout her stay in Jerusalem. “We were exchanging emails and phone calls at least twice a day,” she recalled in a phone interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm. “On 20 January, she wrote me an email saying that she needed US$200 wired to her account to buy her bus ticket back to Egypt–which we sent her of course,” Carr explained.
Just 24 hours later, at precisely 4 AM Cairo time on 22 January, Hughes called her aunt briefly to have her wire her a further US$200. “She said that she could not talk but that it was an emergency, she needed the money now,” said Carr.
That was the last time her family heard from her, until 7:30 PM on Sunday when Hughes called home to announce she was on her way to the US.
“We waited until after the departure time of the flight to call the airline, who told us that she wasn’t on board the flight and that she hadn’t checked any luggage,” said Carr a few hours before she learned of her niece’s safety.
On Sunday afternoon Carr learned through the Facebook group that she had created, In support of Shannon Hughes safe return, that Shannon had taken a taxi from the Sinai to Cairo and arrived at the airport safely and in time to catch her flight.
Reports began to surface that Hughes was being detained by the Egyptian authorities at Cairo International Airport over the validity of her visa.
According to an official at the airport, “Shannon was detained for purchasing a fake visa to re-enter Egypt from Israel.” The official added that “in these types of cases it is normal for the police to conduct an investigation.”
Another airport official said that “in cases of forged travel documents, particularly for people coming from Israel, the Egyptian authorities typically hold the traveler for up to 48 hours in secret detention.”
According to the same airport official, Hughes was released Sunday morning and began her travels home.
“We expect her late to arrive late tonight,” Carr said soon after learning of her niece’s release.
On Shannon’s group page on Facebook, her aunt thanked all of the people “who pulled together and took their personal time and energy into seeing Shannon’s return.” She wrote that complete strangers had for the last three days carried pictures of Shannon in the streets of Taba, Dahab, Cairo and Jerusalem, in search of the missing activist.