Trump, El-Sisi Look To 'Reboot' US-Egyptian Relations

04 April, 2017, 00:39 | Author: Courtney Perry

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is heading to Washington this weekend ahead of a Monday meeting with US President Donald Trump.

Former US President Barack Obama temporarily suspended military aid to Egypt after Sisi overthrew Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, and cracked down on civil society groups.

In a briefing, administration officials said the United States president wanted to back Mr El Sisi's progress on tackling terrorism in the Sinai peninsula, where an ISIL branch is active, and in reforming the economy.

Under President Obama, Al-Sisi never visited the White House, though he met with other leaders whose countries were accused of human rights violations.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said at his Monday press briefing that he would not comment on whether or not Trump brought up human rights concerns privately with Al-Sisi.

Since then, Sisi's regime has been responsible for jailing and killing thousands of protesters.

Both leaders are looking to use the first visit by an Egyptian leader to the White House in seven years to make a point.

He also wants to "build on the strong connection" established with Mr Sisi when they met in NY in September during the United States election campaign. Trump is unlikely to demand any human rights reforms from Egypt as a condition for providing aid. For decades, successive US administrations have bought this line, supporting the authoritarian government of Hosni Mubarak, the former president, to the tune of billions of dollars in military and development aid.

In his meetings this week, Trump will find himself sitting across from the leaders of two countries considered major human rights offenders, according to watchdog groups and the State Department.

"President Trump says he wants to focus bilateral talks on security, but what drives insecurity in Egypt is the government's harsh repression", said Human Rights First's Neil Hicks.

"We are going to be discussing the general outlines of our approach with the Middle East peace process", the U.S. official said on Friday.

Trump should tell Sisi that if he wants the continued support of the US government, he needs to implement a program of genuine political reform, end torture, release political prisoners, relax the restrictions on civil society, end the harassment of human rights defenders and adhere to global standards in his fight against ISIS in the Sinai. Mr Trump's proposed federal budget includes a $54bn increase for U.S. defence. El-Sissi, whose country already has peace with Israel, may be in a position to help Trump push for a broad deal and gain points in Washington - but there is potential for disagreement as well.

Under the Obama administration, military aid to Egypt was capped in October 2013, shortly after Sisi seized power, and was reduced to $1.3bn in annual military assistance and preventing the sale of some larger items such as fighter jets.

A fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Eric Trager said Support from Trump, including an affirmation of Egypt's Middle East standing, would provide El-Sisi's policies with a strong measure of validation domestically and regionally. The White House said it will raise these issues privately, she said. Many officials had expected the administration to more or less ignore the Middle East conflict, as many of Trump's advisers are of the opinion that it is irresolvable under current circumstances.

"He's a fantastic guy", Trump said at the time.

Rights groups raised the alarm over Trump's disregard for the human rights situation in some Arab kingdoms, after his administration made a decision to ignore the Bahrain's heavy-handed crackdown on protesters in order to sell F-16 fighter jets to the monarchy.


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