Trump, Egypt’s el-Sissi pledge joint effort in Islamic State fight.
Egypt leader says he admires president’s ‘unique personality’
President Trump cemented a strong partnership Monday with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, pledging the U.S.’ full backing in the fight against terrorism but putting aside — at least publicly — concerns about the dismal human rights record of the authoritarian regime in Cairo.
At a series of White House meetings and a working lunch, the two leaders appeared on the friendliest of terms and in complete agreement that their top priority was the destruction of the Islamic State and other terrorist groups.
“I just want to let everybody know that we are very much behind President Sissi; he has done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation,” Mr. Trump said as the two men sat in front of the Oval Office fireplace for a photo op.
“You have a great friend and ally in the United States — and in me,” he said.
Mr. Trump told the Egyptian president that the American military was undergoing a massive buildup and promised the full “backing” of Egypt, which receives about $1.5 billion in U.S. military aid, the second-largest amount behind Israel.
Trump administration officials said military aid was expected to continue, despite Mr. Trump’s use of Egypt during the campaign as an example of excessive U.S. aid that would be better spent domestically.
The meeting with Mr. el-Sissi, who seized power in a military coup in 2013, put a sharp focus on Cairo’s human rights abuses carried out in the name of anti-terrorism, including the imprisonment of at least seven U.S. citizens.
Mr. el-Sissi vowed to work with the U.S. on a plan to defeat radial Islamic terrorism.
“We will do that together,” said Mr. Trump. “We will fight terrorism and other things, and we are going to be friends for a long, long period of time.”
Mr. Trump weathered criticism in the past for embracing Mr. el-Sissi. During the presidential race, Mr. Trump described him as a “fantastic guy.”
Former President Barack Obama suspended U.S. military aid to Egypt for nearly two years after Mr. el-Sissi came to power in a military coup. Mr. el-Sissi seized power from democratically elected Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who came to power following Arab Spring uprisings. Shortly after taking office in 2012, Mr. Morsi implemented Islamist reforms that provoked civil protest and the military coup.
Mr. el-Sissi later won election as president, but the election was tainted by the government’s crackdown on his political opponents.
Mr. el-Sissi noted that it was his first visit to the White House since his inauguration in 2014, and the first time an Egyptian president visited the White House in eight years. Mr. Obama never invited an Egyptian leader to the White House.
Mr. Trump was expected to bring up human rights issues — such as a lack of a free press, harsh prison conditions and arbitrary arrests and executions — when the leaders met behind closed doors.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer declined to confirm those talks took place.
“I’m not going to get into what they discussed privately, but I will tell you that we understand the concern, and I think those are the kinds of things [where] I believe progress is made privately,” he said at the daily White House briefing.
In the Oval Office, Mr. el-Sissi told Mr. Trump through an interpreter that he had “deep appreciation and admiration for your unique personality, especially as you’re expanding [the] military to counter terrorism and fear.”
Mr. el-Sissi’s aggressive moves against the Muslim Brotherhood won fans among the country’s religious minorities that suffered at the hands of Islamists.
Dozens of Egyptian expats, many of them members of the Coptic Christian community that was persecuted under Muslim rule in their former country, rallied in support of Mr. el-Sissi outside the White House.
Waving Egyptian flags, they chanted, “Egypt. Egypt. We love Egypt!” and “We support el-Sissi!”
The Coptic Christians viewed Mr. el-Sissi as a savior.
“Before it was not safe. Now it is safe,” said Magda Abdeltwab, 57, who came from her home in New York City for the rally. “The Muslim Brotherhood is very dangerous. Every day people are killed.”
Coptic Christians, the largest Christian minority in the Middle East, continue to suffer violence and oppression in Egypt and across the region.
Nail Megalla, an Egyptian expat who lives in New Jersey, organized the demonstration.
He said Mr. el-Sissi had created “Egypt for all Egyptians,” regardless of one’s faith or politics.
Mr. Megalla organized a similar rally for Mr. el-Sissi when the president led an Egyptian delegation visiting New York in September.
The New York demonstration met with criticism in Egypt over Mr. Megalla, a Coptic Christian, mixing politics with religion.
President Trump met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi at the White House Monday to discuss ongoing joint efforts to combat the Islamic State.