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Building on the current 'chemistry': Sisi's visit to Washington

Can President Sisi's visit to Washington be a turning point for Egyptian-American relations?

Azza Radwan Sedky , Thursday 6 Apr 2017
Views: 4453
Views: 4453

While Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi was attending the 2016 United Nations General Assembly in the US, he met with then-presidential nominee Donald Trump.

After this one meeting, both men came out full of mutual praise.

President El-Sisi said he had no doubt Trump would make a strong leader, and Trump called El-Sisi a “fantastic guy.”

“I thought it was very productive… We met for a long time, actually. There was a good chemistry there. You know when you have good chemistry with people. There’s a good feeling between us,” Trump said at the time.

The official statement that came out of the Trump/Pence campaign was promising, with Trump thanking El-Sisi and the Egyptian people for what they have done in defence of their country and for the betterment of the world over the last few years.

Trump expressed to El-Sisi his strong support for Egypt’s war on terrorism, and how under a Trump administration, the US would not only be an ally, but a loyal friend that Egypt could count on in the days and years ahead.

More importantly, Trump said that if he were fortunate enough to win the election, he would “invite President Sisi on an official visit to the United States and would be honoured to visit Egypt and the Egyptian people, who he has a great fondness for.”

Soon afterwards, President El-Sisi was of the first leaders to congratulate president-elect Trump on his victory during a phone call after the US presidential inauguration.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that Trump and El-Sisi discussed "ways to deepen the bilateral relationship between the two countries, fight terrorism and boost Egypt's struggling economy.”

Egyptian presidency spokesperson Alaa Youssef said that President Trump appreciated “the difficulties faced by Egypt in its war on terror and affirmed his administration's commitment to supporting the country.”

And here we are, witnessing the first meeting between the two leaders after Trump’s election.

While we know that the “chemistry” between the two is there, what do Egyptians hope to gain from the visit? A lot, actually.

The first benefit lies in the invite itself.

Less than three months after Trump became president, President El-Sisi will be one of a few prominent leaders officially invited to meet the US president, including British Prime Minister Teresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

By the same token, the visit tells the world at large that it is indeed beneficial to the US to mend the broken ties and establish a better relationship with Egypt, and that Egypt is a partner against terrorism, an ally to be valued, and a pivotal player in the Middle East.

Not only does this give weight to Egypt, but it also remedies former US president Barack Obama’s snub to the Egyptian president, which had seriously strained relations between Egypt and the US.

The invite could also assist in eradicating the bitter feelings that lingered after Obama withheld the sale to Egypt of F-16 fighter jets, cancelled joint military exercises, suspended military aid, and remained oblivious to the hardships Egypt was facing. 

Under Obama, Egyptians’ view of the US worsened, as many believed that the US was the cause of much of the havoc in Syria, Iraq and Libya.

The visit, if fruitful, can alleviate mistrust and eradicate scepticism.

During the visit, President El-Sisi should present the US with proof of the Muslim Brotherhood’s true stance and show that it is the culprit behind much of the terrorism in Egypt.

He must convince President Trump that the Muslim Brotherhood should be designated a terrorist group by the US. The evidence exists, and presenting it to the American side would not be difficult.

Several motions in the US Congress to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group have been rejected over the years.

The US State Department’s memo on the latest motion states that “there is not one monolithic Muslim Brotherhood,” and that while the MB may be connected to terrorist groups, it has many legitimate apolitical activities.

It is up to President El-Sisi to prove otherwise.

In the 1960s, the West watched as Egypt turned to Russia.

When the US left Egypt to fend for itself against terrorism and economic challenges, Egypt turned to other alliances and partners, such as Russia, China, and the Gulf States, while maintaining an aloof and distant relationship with the US.

El-Sisi’s visit may affect another change: bring the two countries closer in course, mindset and disposition, as the US retains Egypt as an ally in the region.

While the Arab world is in disarray, this is a valuable opportunity for President El-Sisi to speak on behalf of Arabs and work on resolving the issues that threaten the region.

Without the assistance and determination of the US, it will take longer to resolve the issues in the threatened countries, if at all.

Egypt needs to protect its borders and safeguard Sinai, its territories, and its people in general. The country needs to explain to the world its obligation towards itself and the Arab world, and who else can project this to the Western world but President El-Sisi via President Trump.

The US needs a strong ally in Egypt, and Egypt needs a strong ally in the US. This visit could be the turning point in relations.

Azza Radwan Sedky, PhD, is an academic, a political analyst, and the author of Cairo Rewind: the First Two Years of Egypt's Revolution, 2011-2013.

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