US President Donald Trump has said his administration will foster a "long and strong partnership" with Egypt leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The Egyptian strongman has faced strong criticism over his human rights record.
US President Donald Trump was prepared to put human rights controversies aside on Monday, as the camaraderie between him and Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was on full display.
"I just want to let everybody know in case there was any doubt that we are very much behind President Sisi," Trump said, as the two men met in the Oval Office. "He's done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation. We are very much behind Egypt and the people of Egypt."
Trump also signaled that the two countries would work together in fighting Islamic militants. Egypt is one of the US' most strategic allies in the Middle East and is the largest recipient of financial military support in the region after Israel. Egypt fetches some $1.3 billion (1.2 billion euros) in US military aid per year.
The two men also met in September while the US presidential campaign was in full swing. At the time, Trump called Sisi, a former army general, a "fantastic guy." The catalyst for their close friendship is believed to be their common hard line approach to jihadist groups, which Sisi described a "satanic ideology" during Monday's White House visit.
The two men met back in September, when there appeared to be little prospect of Trump moving into the White House.
Trump hushed up on Egypt's human rights record
Although Trump noted that there were "a few things" the two leaders did not agree on, the US President did not feel the need to make any public airing of US concerns over Egypt's human rights record under Sisi.
Rights group estimate that Sisi's government has detained at least 40,000 political prisoners.
"Inviting al-Sisi for an official visit to Washington as tens of thousands of Egyptians rot in jail and when torture is again the order of the day is a strange way to build a stable strategic relationship," Sarah Margon, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, said.
Trump takes Sisi in from the cold
Sisi's White House visit marks a significant rapprochement in US-Egyptian ties. While the former general was democratically elected Egypt's president in 2013, Trump's predecessor, President Barack Obama, always appeared to keep him at arm's length.
The Obama administration temporarily froze military aid in 2013, after Sisi, then defense minister, helped orchestrate the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi. Under Obama, the White House repeatedly admonished the Sisi's government's bloody crackdown against Egyptian Islamists and dissidents.
Ahead of Monday's meeting, a White House official said that the Trump administration was considering whether to designate Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood as a terror organization. Trump "is interested in hearing president al-Sisi's views on the Muslim Brotherhood issue," the senior administration official said. "We, along with a number of countries, have some concerns about various activities that the Muslim Brotherhood has conducted in the region. But that's going to be a discussion that will unfold between us and Egypt."
dm/rc (AP, Reuters, dpa)