Trump and el-Sisi a mutual admiration society

(April 4) US President Donald Trump has moved to reboot or reset U.S. relations with Egyptian President Abdel el-SIsi. Trump gave el-Sisi his firm backing and vowed to work with him to fight Islamist militants.
 

Relations were somewhat strained while Obama was in power as he was critical of el-Sisi's violent crackdown on former elected-president Morsi's supporters and the Muslim brotherhood as discussed in a recent Digital Journal article. A motherhood statement after the meeting claimed the two leaders agreed on advancing peace in the Middle East, including Libya, Syria and Yemen. They both expressed interest in supporting Israel and the Palestinians in moving towards peace. Trump said: "I just want to let everybody know in case there was any doubt that we are very much behind President Sisi. He’s done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation." However, the human rights situation is terrible, the economy is in shambles and Sisi faces a violent insurgency in the Sinai. Thousands of political prisoners languish in jail.
As well as the one on one meeting between el-Sisi and Trump there was a separate gathering of top aides. A strong connection between el-Sisi and Trump had already been established last September. Trump said: "I just want to say to you, Mr President, that you have a great friend and ally in the United States, and in me." Both agreed that Islamist militants could not be defeated just by military force and that the two recognized the peaceful nature of Islam and Muslims around the world. Trump did note that there were a few things that the two did not agree upon but then he refused to say anything publicly about el-Sisi's human rights record.
Rights groups have been calling for the release of Aya Hijazi an Egyptian-American who works with street children. He was arrested back in May 2014 on human trafficking charges. According to Egyptian law the maximum length for pre-trial detention is two years but Hihazi has been held much longer than that. A senior official said the case did not come up at the meeting but that it was being closely watched by the Trump administration. Perhaps el-Sisi will see to Hijazi's release to help promote Trump. Nikki Haley claimed the Trump administration was not backing away from human rights as the administration fully supported her speaking out on human rights issues at the United Nations. She did not say whether she brought up issues such as the estimated 40,000 political prisoners in Egyptian jails. Egypt receives $1.3 billion annually in military aid.
The Middle East Eye invented the term Trumpisi: "The start of the working week in Washington brought a 'fantastic guy' face to face once again with that self-described deal-maker extraordinaire. The result: Trumpisi is born." Obama had not asked el-Sisi to visit so this was the first visit of an Egyptian president to the White House since 2009.
Some analysts perhaps tend to whitewash Obama's legacy. Obama did not call el-Sisi's seizure of power a coup and the Congress in all but one year waived the human rights provisions that would have prevented aid to Egypt. Obama did not take that powerful position against the Rabaa massacre by el-Sisi that left more than a thousand dead.
Even though the meeting between the two presidents went well, the situation in their respective countries is not going well for them. In March Trump's approval rating went down to a dismal 37 percent. He failed to pass his health care bill and he is fighting off accusations that he colluded with Russia. His travel ban is not working out well at all. El-Sisi also has seen a drop in his popularity. Supposedly, he was elected with 97 percent of the vote. Of course the Muslim Brotherhood did not take part since it had been banned as a terrorist organization. In August last year, el-Sisi had an approval rating of 82 percent. Within two months it had dropped to 68 percent. Since November polls have gone silent.
Since then, el-Sisi has devalued the Egyptian pound that created a 14 percent inflation rate that by this February reached 30 percent. Both men are politically and ideologically committed to fighting terrorism. El-Sisi would like Trump's administration to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group. However, there was no mention of the Brotherhood in a statement after the meeting. Some analysts such as Omar Ashour, a lecturer at the University of Exeter, claim that terrorist insurgency intensified after el-Sisi's crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and others. Former assistant secretary of state Tom Malinowski said that declaring the Brotherhood a terrorist organization could backfire on Trump and reinforce the view that his administration was attacking Muslims.
There is no mention in the positive Trumpisi statement of the protests about bread prices in Egypt, millions of unemployed,and an external debt that increased to $67 billion in one year, or the austerity programs forced upon Egypt by the IMF in return for a bailout. Terms that el-Sisi uses to squeeze the lower classes while enriching generals. The Middle East Eye article concludes: "To sum up bluntly, the Trumpisi meeting was a total charade. Trump gets to claim he has a supporter in the fight against terror and Sisi can publicly wear his Trumptonian seal of approval."


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