In DC visit, Egypt's el-Sissi to test 'chemistry' with Trump

Peter Castro
April 4, 2017

President Donald J. Trump (left) greets Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in the White House on April 3.

"I just want to let everybody know that we are very much behind President al-Sisi - he has done a fantastic job in a very hard situation", Trump said.

Unlike Trump, the former president, Barack Obama decline to invite El-Sisi to the White House during his term in office.

The Obama administration froze military aid to Egypt after then-defense minister Sisi led the 2013 ouster of president Mohamed Morsi, and a bloody crackdown on his supporters.

"He wants to use President Sisi's visit to reboot the bilateral relationship and build on the strong connection the two presidents established when they first met in NY last September", the official said, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity.

"President Al Sisi has taken a number of bold steps since becoming president in 2014, including calling for the reform and moderation of Islamic discourse and initiating courageous and historic economic reforms", it said. Yesterday, hundreds of protestors gathered at the Washington monument hoping to bring attention to the thousands of political prisoners languishing in Egyptian prisons.

Sisi's visit comes as the Trump administration has proposed massive cuts to US foreign aid, the details of which are still to be determined.

"We are going to address this with Egypt in a way that we think maximizes the chances her case will be resolved in a satisfactory way", the official said.

Ahead of the meeting, the White House said that "Egypt is one of the traditional pillars of stability in the Middle East and has been a reliable US partner for decades".

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It also seems likely the Trump administration will agree to a request by Egypt to add its outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to the US list of worldwide terrorist organizations.

Ahead of the meeting, a senior administration official said the topic would be handled in a "private, more discreet way". Economic experts have recommended that Al-Sisi should discuss with Trump the direction of the dollar and U.S. economic policies regarding Egypt.

El-Sisi's "main motive in relation to political Islam is saying they're all terrorists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood", Ziad Akl, senior researcher at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, said in an interview.

The US administration official said Washington wants to "fully support" Egypt.

The organization also welcomes the bipartisan Egypt resolution to be introduced Monday in the Senate that offers continuing US support to Egypt in its efforts "to confront legitimate threats", while also calling on Egypt's leaders to "take steps towards meaningful political and human rights reforms".

But it remains unclear whether Trump, who wants to downsize foreign aid and cut the State Department's budget, will maintain current financing to Egypt.

Arab media on Monday reported that both Jordanian King Abdullah and Egyptian head of state General Abdel el-Sisi will present a peace plan for renewed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority when they visit Washington this week. On Monday he visits the White House.

US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt has been trying to build momentum for a deal that would be the ultimate achievement for a president who prides himself on his bargaining prowess.

"You have a great friend and ally in the United States and in me", the president told el-Sissi during their Oval Office meeting. Egypt would prefer that the United States was more involved in the search for a political settlement unifying Libya's rival administrations, thus paving the way for crushing militant groups operating there.

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