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Middle East

Trump reaches out to Egypt ruler el-Sissi on security

US President Donald Trump has called his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, to discuss closer bilateral cooperation. What is behind the interest in renewed ties - and what do Egypt's media think?

Egyptians took to social media on Tuesday to react to the news that their president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi had spoken with his US counterpart, Donald Trump, the day before. Twitter users displayed mixed reactions to the phone call. Some were proud of el-Sissi and his pledge to fight terrorism alongside Trump and restore economic ties with the United States. Others mocked the notion or expressed suspicion about Trump's intentions.

"President el-Sissi told Trump today that we've been fighting a war for 40 months by ourselves," Amna Ismael wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. "God willing we will be victorious. Long live Egypt and long live the Egyptian people."

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed that Trump and el-Sissi had discussed "ways to deepen the bilateral relationship between the two countries, fight terrorism and boost Egypt's struggling economy.”

There was apparently also talk of Trump's reinstating military aid to Egypt after the Obama administration shifted some US funds away from the government of el-Sissi, a general who assumed power after overthrowing his country's first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, in 2013, and has been accused of abusing human rights ever since. 

On Tuesday, el-Sissi said he told Trump that Egypt's government has been fighting terror groups - both Morsi loyalists and militants on the Sinai Peninsula - without assistance for 40 months.

"Trump and el-Sissi, please forget Obama," Muni wrote on Twitter. "Let's unite together and eradicate terrorism. You can't fight terrorism without Egypt."

In Egypt, the term "terrorism" is often used to describe the Muslim Brotherhood, the faction that most strongly backed Morsi.

'At any time'

In a statement released Tuesday, Egypt's government announced that el-Sissi - the first Arab leader with whom Trump has spoken in his new role as president - would meet with his US counterpart at the White House. 

"Every time you lose hope, remember that Donald Trump and Abdel Fattah el-Sissi are presidents," a user named Ahmed wrote sarcastically.

Many in Egypt see both leaders as incompetent and find it even more surreal that el-Sissi could join forces with Trump, who is seen in Muslim countries as being against Islam.

"Don't trust Trump, because he can turn on you at any time, a journalist for Egypt's Masr al-Arabia TV channel wrote.

Similarities

Trump views el-Sissi - who was one of the first world leaders to congratulate him on his election win this past November - as a strong, decisive leader in the Middle East and North Africa and has even called him a "fantastic guy." The new US president has also said he considers the Muslim Brotherhood a dangerous organization. Trump, who calls himself tough on "radical islamic terror," has said el-Sissi could cooperate on regional security issues.   

The renowned journalist Shahira Amin wrote on Egypt's Al-Monitor news website that both men have "called for a ‘war on extremism' and given their blessings to the Russian-led airstrikes on rebel-held positions in Syria." She also mentioned that most of el-Sissi's supporters celebrated Trump's victory.

Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi Rede (picture alliance/AP Photo)

Egypt's president el-Sissi is a former military officer and has strict anti-Muslim Brotherhood views

Both men have uneasy relationships with the press. The new US president often says mainstream media are biased against him. El-Sissi has criticized media that he claims support the Muslim Brotherhood. 

In an editorial Tuesday for Al-Masry Al-Youm, the columnist Mayy Azzam wrote that "Egyptian President el-Sissi  uses the same phrase as Trump when it comes to media critics of his policies: The media is misleading the people”  

Trump has expressed hope that el-Sissi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be his administration's strongest allies in the Middle East and North Africa.

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