During the latest United Nations General Assembly in New York, Egyptian President Abdul Fatah al-Sisi took the opportunity to meet with both United States presidential candidates, signaling a probable continuation of current American policy in Egypt, regardless of the results of the November election.
On Monday, American presidential candidate Donald Trump sat down with Sisi to discuss the current state of American-Egyptian relations. According to an official campaign statement, Trump praised Sisi for his leadership and promised to work with him to defeat radical Islamic terrorism, while emphasizing his “high regard for peace loving Muslims.” Trump later praised Sisi for how he “took control of Egypt,” in reference to the 2013 military coup that brought Sisi to power. Finally, Trump hinted he might attempt to ensure further legitimacy for Sisi’s government by sponsoring a bill in the House of Representatives to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.
Most interesting about Trump’s praise was his break from established American policy. Trump praised Sisi not only for his stabilizing influence in Egypt, but also for his anti-terrorism policies. Egypt has been battling a violent insurgency in the Sinai, whose members have metastasized into increasingly radical and violent organizations, in part due to gross human rights violations committed by security forces. However, Trump did not raise any concerns about these human rights violations.
President Sisi also met with Hillary Clinton, in his second meeting with the former Secretary of State since he took power in 2013. Clinton’s speech was more in line with current American policy, where Hillary discussed, “a range of issues, including counterterrorism,” but apparently “emphasized the importance of… human rights to Egypt’s future progress.” Specifically, Secretary Clinton raised the issue of Aya Hegazy, an Egyptian-American human rights activist detained on false charges for the past two years in Egypt.
As for Sisi, his visit to the United States was widely reported by Egyptian media. Sisi’s meetings with Trump and Clinton, as well as his subsequent interviews with CNN and Charlie Rose, were broadcasted throughout Egypt. Sisi chastized the American media for its allegedly inaccurate portrayal of human rights violations within Egypt and declared Egypt would not “return to dictatorship.” He also told CNN that he thought Donald Trump would make a “strong leader” for the United States, with some Egyptian politicians drawing parallels between Trump and Sisi in Arab media.
There was some dissent to Sisi’s visit. Notably, the Working Group on Egypt, a non-partisan organization of academics chaired by Robert Kagan, released a letter calling for both candidates to refrain from meeting with Sisi given his government’s gross human rights violations during and after the coup. Additionally, the Muslim Brotherhood released a statement decrying the visit, while pro-Brotherhood and pro-Sisi expatriates clashed outside the meeting in New York.