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Egyptian President Sisi heads to Washington to meet Trump

The two men first met last year and came away singing each other's praises. After a rocky relationship between the US and Egypt under the Obama administration, the White House now wants a "reboot."

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is heading to Washington this weekend ahead of a Monday meeting with US President Donald Trump. 

The former reality television celebrity has openly expressed his admiration for Egypt's ex-army chief, who toppled its Islamist president in 2013 and cracked down on his supporters.

Former US President Barack Obama temporarily suspended military aid to Egypt after Sisi overthrew Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, and cracked down on civil society groups. 

But Sisi can expect a warm welcome during his first state visit to Washington. He'll find a US president who downplays human rights issues and is focused on security and terrorism. On the campaign trail last year, Trump even advocated torturing suspected terrorists and killing their families.

Sisi has "led Egypt's campaign to defeat a long-running terrorist threat in the Sinai," a US administration official said during a briefing on Friday, refering to an "Islamic State" insurgency. 

Trump "wants to use President al-Sisi's visit to reboot the bilateral connection," he said.

The two men first met in September, and came away praising each other. Sisi said Trump shows "deep and great understanding" of the region.

Trump gushed about their "chemistry."

"He's a fantastic guy," Trump said at the time. "(Sisi) took control of Egypt, and he really took control of it."

Fight over human rights

Sisi has presided over a crackdown on Islamist protesters and civil society, with hundreds killed and thousands arrested.

Cairo has demanded Western countries take a tougher stance against Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement, Egypt's oldest and largest Islamist political party.  That is something Trump's administration may consider.

"Beyond Sisi being thrilled that Trump replaced Obama, and the opportunity to turn a page, this is Egypt trying to reassert itself in a more central way to US Middle East strategy," said Issandr El Amrani, the North Africa director of the International Crisis Group.

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Egypt is one of two Arab countries that have a peace treaty with Israel and has traditionally played a central role in US regional alliances. In return, Cairo receives $1.3 billion (1.2 billion euro) in annual military aid.

The Egyptian president will meet with cabinet members and lawmakers ahead of his meeting with Trump.

And he will also meet with representatives of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Egypt has been negotiating billions of dollars in aid to help revive an economy beset by political turmoil since a 2011 revolt.

 A dollar shortage has crippled imports and driven away foreign investors.

Egypt received the first tranche of a three-year $12 billion loan from the IMF and is expecting to receive the second $3 billion tranche soon.

bik/cw (AFP, Reuters)

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