Obama never invited Egyptian President Abdelfatah Al Sisi to the White House and he froze aid to Egypt for two years due to his opposition to the regime’s human rights violations. Egypt’s human rights record is in question, but how will the U.S, claiming always to stand for freedom and democracy, attempt to improve the bilateral relations under President Trump?
On November 2016, Egyptian President Abdelfatah Al Sisi made a significant phone call. He was the first international leader to congratulate Donald Trump, then newly elected President of the United States upon his victory. The call implied that both leaders were keen on establishing a relationship of cooperation and mutual benefit, particularly after Trump referred to Sisi as a “fantastic guy” with which he shared “great chemistry”.
On the 28th of March of this year, the office of the Press Secretary released the following statement announcing the Sisi’s visit to the White House:
President Donald J. Trump looks forward to welcoming President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi of Egypt for an official visit to Washington on April 3. President Trump and President Al Sisi will use the visit to build on the positive momentum they have built for the United States-Egypt relationship. They will discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues, including how to defeat ISIS and pursue peace and stability in the region.
Terrorism and military aid: a growing concern
For Abdelfatah Al Sisi, there is much to push for with Trump. Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. military aid after Israel, receiving an estimated $1.5 billion a year. With the violent terror attacks creeping through the Middle East reaching Egypt, the issue of security in the Sinai region is a growing concern. Currently, Sinai is under attack almost on a daily basis, which has cost Egypt hundreds of military casualties as well as innocent civilians, in particular from the Coptic minority.
How can the U.S. help Egypt combat Islamist military threats in Sinai? What is standing in the way of Egypt winning this conflict? It seems Trump’s promise during his campaign to target terrorism might be promising for Abdelfatah Al Sisi afterall.
Human Rights and U.S Aid
But it is not just Abdelfatah Al Sisi who should be asking questions. Obama never invited Sisi to the White House and froze aid to Egypt for two years due to his opposition to the regime’s human rights violations.
Will the concerns of Egyptians also matter to Trump? Egypt’s human rights record is in question, but how will the U.S, claiming always to stand for freedom and democracy, attempt to improve it?
Problems include the imprisonment of tens of thousands of people, a crackdown on NGOs, an economic crisis (with the recent devaluation of the EGP by 50%), and major shortcomings in education, healthcare, employment, and housing.
Egypt’s human rights record is in question, but how will the U.S, claiming always to stand for freedom and democracy, attempt to improve it? Problems include the imprisonment of tens of thousands of people, a crackdown on NGOs, an economic crisis (with the recent devaluation of the EGP by 50%), and major shortcomings in education, healthcare, employment, and housing.
Sisi has been criticized for his government expenditure on massive projects that lack sufficient support from the public rather than fuelling the economy with investments in industry and exports. One such example is the expansion of the Suez Canal, which cost $8 billion. Perhaps U.S aid and the ways in which it is managed should be a topic for discussion. Sisi may need to ensure aid remains a benefit he can enjoy, especially because Trump’s planned fiscal budget for 2018 involves making cuts to foreign aid. Below, a graph created by the Financial Times reveals the ups and downs of the Egyptian economy and its forecast improvements. Could U.S aid contribute to a prosperous Egyptian economy with mutual benefit?
Sisi was an adamant supporter of Trump during his campaign despite his rhetoric regarding Muslim immigrants. Both have attempted to draw legitimacy from plans to target or eradicate the problem of terrorism in the region. So far, it seems this has united them under an umbrella of populist ideologies. But with Trump’s critics louder than ever now following the outrage surrounding his recent healthcare bill, and with Sisi’s overwhelmingly declining support, it appears both presidents have great incentive to invest in their relations and eventually harvest some profits.