Trump welcomes Egypt's Sisi in test for 'reboot' in ties

A White House official says the president wants to use the visit to "reboot a bilateral relationship and build on the strong connection the two presidents established when they first met in NY".

In this March 2, 2017 Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, during a press conference, at the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, March 2, 2017.

President Trump has repeatedly mentioned Egypt as one of the Muslim-majority allies that the US should maintain its partnership with in the fight against extremists like the Islamic State group.

For his part, Sisi said he appreciated that Trump has been "standing very counter this evil ideology".

While Trump noted the United States and Egypt "have a few things" they do not agree on, he made no public airing of USA concerns about human rights in Egypt.

Human rights organizations had urged Trump to use the meeting to pressure Sisi over vast human rights violations, but given the praise they previously bestowed upon each other, their appearance at a press conference on Monday, and a statement from the White House, there appears to be no chance of that happening.

At $1.3 billion a year, Egypt is the second-largest recipient of US foreign aid, after Israel.

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A senior administration official said the subject of Hijazi did not come up in the meeting with Trump, Sisi and their advisers but said the detention is an issue of concern and a case that is being watched closely by the Trump administration.

Egypt's pro-government media has called el-Sissi's White House visit historic - it is the first by an Egyptian head of state since 2009.

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.

The ongoing chaos in the Middle East region, growing terrorism worldwide in addition to common interests turned Western attention to Egypt's regional role and prompted thaw in the Egyptian-Western ties, said Egyptian political experts. Relationships were strained between Obama and el-Sisi as Obama had supported elected president Morsi whom el-Sisi ousted.

The resolution was reintroduced after objections by other Security Council members, and passed with the United States abstaining. Indeed, Kessler noted that the meeting will likely deepen impressions that the Trump administration has given "that it will take a somewhat transactional approach to diplomacy, in which issues of human rights will recede to the background more than they did during the Obama era".

While President Obama's decision to largely shun el-Sisi may have been rooted in a tough moral stance, the United States' longstanding relationship with Egypt suffered as a result.

In 2013, the Obama administration suspended the $1.3-billion aid package after the Egyptian military, led at the time by Sisi, overthrew Egypt's first democratically elected president.

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The public remarks at the White House, however, stuck to military and economic cooperation.

A Trump administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the President will reaffirm the U.S. commitment to Egypt's security and that the USA will "maintain a strong and sufficient level of support to Egypt".

Human rights groups estimate that at least 40,000 political prisoners have been detained by Sisi's government.

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.

  • Leroy Wright