Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C) and US President Donald Trump (R) shake hands in the Oval Office before a meeting at the White House April 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. PHOTO: Brendan Smialowski / AFP
President Donald Trump put human rights controversies aside to warmly welcome Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to the White House Monday, the first such visit from an Egyptian president in almost a decade.
Greeting Sisi in the Oval Office, Trump heaped praise on the former general’s leadership and embarked on a charm offensive designed to fix ties strained by revolution and security crackdowns.
“You have a great friend and ally in the United States and in me,” Trump told Sisi, sweeping aside his predecessor’s concerns about democratic abuses in Egpyt.
“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 difficult situation,” Trump added.
The meeting symbolizes an end to years in which the Egyptian leader had been kept at arm’s length by Washington amid rights concerns.
The last time an Egyptian president was at the White House was in 2010, when Hosni Mubarak attended Middle East peace talks alongside Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian leaders.
Within months Mubarak was ousted by a popular uprising, which received tacit support from president Barack Obama.
The Egypt-US relationship was strained further as a broadly Islamist and then a military government — led by Sisi — took charge.
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.
Egypt’s key role as the most populous Arab nation meant that the aid was fully reinstated in 2015, but diplomatic relations remained difficult.
The catalyst for Trump and Sisi’s friendship has been a common hardline against jihadist groups, which Sisi described as “a satanic ideology” during brief remarks at the White House.