Donald Trump

Trump calls Egypt’s Sisi an ally against terrorism by Islamic militants

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 April, 2017, 2:26am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 April, 2017, 2:26am

President Donald Trump said Monday his buildup of the US military would help Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi fight terrorism as the two met at the White House for their first summit of the Trump presidency.

“We are rejuvenating our military to the highest level,” Trump said in a brief appearance before reporters ahead of a series of meetings and lunch. “You have a great friend and ally in the United States and me.”

Trump made no mention of a US citizen who has been imprisoned by the Egyptians. He said that Sisi, who led a military coup in 2011 that deposed former president Mohamed Mursi, has “been someone very close to me from the first time I met him” during his presidential campaign.

US officials told reporters last week that Trump would reaffirm the US commitment to Egypt, after the two countries’ previously close relationship was frayed by political turbulence in Cairo during the Arab Spring and the Obama administration’s concerns about human rights abuses. Trump also wants to help Egypt boost its economy, according to the officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity ahead of the visit.

After the Oval Office appearance, reporters were unexpectedly summoned to a meeting in the White House’s Cabinet Room, where Trump said “we have many things in common” and “a few things we don’t agree on.”

Egyptian officials arrested Aya Hijazi, who grew up in Virginia, in 2014 while running a foundation to help street children in Egypt. The Egyptian authorities accused Hijazi of abusing the children under her care. Her husband, Mohammed Hassanein, was also arrested.

A US official told reporters last week the Hijazi’s case was a top priority for Trump and that the White House would discuss it with Egyptian leaders during the visit. Human rights groups have accused the Egyptian government of a politically motivated prosecution and several US lawmakers have called for Hijazi to be released as soon as possible.

The US provides more than US$1.3 billion in economic and military aid annually to Egypt. The White House expects military and civilian support for Egypt will continue, one of the officials said in the briefing.

Trump and El-Sisi will also discuss whether the US should declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation, the official said. The democratically elected Mursi government that El-Sisi deposed was closely identified with the Muslim Brotherhood and El-Sisi’s regime has taken a hard line against the Brotherhood, arresting thousands of people and sentencing many to death in mass trials.

The US government has raised alarms about potential human rights abuses in Egypt even as it has pursued cooperation to combat a militant threat in the north Sinai Peninsula.

Tourists flocking back to Egypt’s pyramids and ancient sites

The US is considering some kind of designation for the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt’s government has declared a terrorist group, according to people familiar with the matter. The decision by the US could be contentious, as the Brotherhood formally renounced terrorism decades ago and plays a political role in some countries including Jordan, a US ally.

Trump’s administration says it is taking a different approach to Egypt’s human rights record than the Obama administration, which publicly expressed its displeasure and stopped letting Cairo buy weapons on credit. While human rights will be a priority in discussions with Egypt, the new White House will handle the matter in a private, more discreet way, according to one US official.

Trump will also meet this week with King Abdullah II of Jordan, while Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited the White House in March. The talks with the Jordanian monarch are expected to focus on other regional issues, including Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, that El-Sisi is also expected to raise.

Abdullah and Trump are also likely to discuss the Syrian refugee crisis; there are about 657,000 Syrian refugees at camps in Jordan, according to the United Nations. Fundraising to support the refugees lags far behind the UN’s targets, while the Trump administration has said it plans to both cut US support for the institution and curtail the resettlement of Syrian refugees in America.