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Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Trump, El Sisi’s trip is all anyone can talk about

As expected, almost all coverage on Egypt in the foreign press centered on the state visit and its significance as the barometer for the break between the Trump and Obama administrations on the issue of human rights. Perhaps the most interesting (albeit quite antagonistic) commentary on the issue came from The Atlantic, which posits that there was no real difference between Obama and Trump on the issue of human rights beyond paying it lip service. Obama, contrary to popular perceptions in both Egypt and the US, maintained and never cut over 90% of the aid DC sanctions to Egypt and he never made human rights a condition for receiving it, writes Shadi Hamid. This interpretation was partially supported by co-chairs of the bipartisan Working Group on Egypt Peter Keagan and Michelle Dunne who penned an op-ed for the Washington Post that also asserts that it is standard protocol not to make aid conditional on human rights issues.

Dunne, in a separate interview with NPR, joined the New York Times’ Peter Baker and Declan Walsh in casting the trip as a meeting of the minds of two authoritarian leaders. Baker and Walsh assert that this is in keeping with Trump’s pattern of admiring men like Vladimir Putin.

Would that this were in the WSJ: USA Today carries a nice piece from Jacob Wirtschafter on how Egypt’s economy is “like a phoenix … rising from ashes.”

One thing almost all major outlets can agree on, is the Financial Times’ conclusion that the trip was a victory for El Sisi regardless of whether Trump doles out the aid. The trip has validated him is both domestic and on the international stage. That big hug was just what Mr. Sisi’s government sought, said Eric Trager, a scholar on Egypt at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “It wants to see the White House legitimate it, and set it on a new course.”

Coverage was more varied before the meeting, with The Times of Israel speculating that El Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah are pushing on the two-state solution and Middle Eastern studies professor Josef Olmert generalized in his The Huffington Post piece that El Sisi deserves “much credit for saving Egypt from another internal implosion similar to that which is existing in Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Syria, with the exception, that as important as all these countries are, especially the latter two, Egypt IS THE most important Arab country.”

CNN says “Trump seems to be banking heavily on the Sunni states to play a major role in achieving his administration’s objectives in the region. But the Trump administration’s vision of a new US strategic partnership with Sunni states is flawed.” Elsewhere, Tom Porteus wrote in a piece for The Hill that “Trump should tell Sisi that if he wants the continued support of the U.S. government, he needs to implement a program of genuine political reform, end torture, release political prisoners, relax the restrictions on civil society, end the harassment of human rights defenders and adhere to international standards in his fight against ISIS in the Sinai.” Al Jazeera highlights that activists were still asking Trump to bring up the issues prisoners in Egypt. Bel Trew was even more dismissive of the meeting, writing in The Daily Beast that Trump would be making a “bad bet” on El Sisi if he is “looking for a Mideast winner.”

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