In Egypt, elation at Trump’s win
CAIRO - The fact that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was the first world leader to call US President-elect Donald Trump to congratulate him on his victory speaks volumes of how a US administration led by Trump is viewed in Egypt, analysts said.
“Trump has a positive view of Egypt and its president, which is why his victory is welcomed here,” said Tarek Fahmi, a political science professor at Cairo University. “Both Sisi and Trump have similar views, especially when it comes to the war on terrorism.”
Trump met Sisi for the first time in September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
“He is a fantastic guy,” Trump said of Sisi on Fox News. “There was good chemistry (in their meeting). You know when there is chemistry with people. There was a good feeling between us. He has wiped the terrorists out. He took a tough approach, much different from our approach. He had no choice. He has done a very good job.”
Sisi, in his own interview after meeting with Trump, told CNN that the US billionaire would make a “strong leader”.
This is more about political and strategic interests, analysts said. Egypt has always been a cornerstone of stability in the Middle East, they added.
“A strong Egypt is specifically important to the United States amid expectations that the new administration will try to right the wrongs of Barack Obama’s administration, whether in Syria, Libya or in the rest of the region,” said analyst Said al-Lawindy.
Most assuring for Egypt, when it comes to Syria, is Trump’s positive view of Russia, the strong backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Lawindy said.
Egypt, which supports the Russian approach to radical groups fighting Assad, expects Trump to collaborate with Moscow to end the war raging in Syria, he added.
Libya, Egypt’s neighbour to the west whose unrest is seen by Cairo as its strongest national security menace, is another potential collaboration point between Cairo and Washington under Trump, other analysts said.
“The United States has been instrumental in Libya’s descending into what it is now,” Fahmi said. “A lot will change in this regard under Trump.”
Relations between Cairo and Washington moved from warm alliance to cold friendship soon after the Egyptian Army — led by Sisi — ousted Islamist president Muhammad Morsi in 2013. The Obama administration considered the move a military coup.
Washington, which gives Egypt $1.3 billion in military and economic aid annually, froze some funds and held back some military assistance, including Apache helicopters Cairo says are important in its terrorism fight in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.
Coldness in US-Egyptian relations was manifest in encounters between Sisi and Obama in 2014 and 2016. In the first, on the sidelines of UN General Assembly, Obama did not look at Sisi as he spoke to him and his accompanying delegation. In the second encounter, which was during the Group of 20 summit in China, Obama ignored the Egyptian president.
A new chapter in US-Egyptian relations seems to be ready to start, however. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry welcomed Trump’s victory, expressing hopes that it would allow for more collaboration.
“We look forward to resuming dialogue with the United States,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said. “Egypt is at the heart of the new US vision for stability in the Middle East.”
The Arab League also welcomed Trump’s election win, saying it hoped he would act to solve some of the region’s problems.
“We hope the United States will help resume the stalled Middle East peace process,” Arab League Assistant Secretary-General Ahmed Ben Helli said. “We also look forward to cooperating with any new US Middle East envoy.”
Egypt’s analysts said Sisi especially admires Trump’s enmity to Islamist organisations, which gives him assurances that his administration will not offer backing to the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi’s movement, Sisi’s most avowed enemy.
Much to the Egyptian leader’s joy, a foreign policy adviser to the US president-elect, Walid Phares, said Trump would propose a law that labels the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation as soon as he takes over.
Trump’s victory, however, is sad news to one Egyptian group — rights advocates. They claim Trump is not as interested in human rights as Obama and Hillary Clinton are.
“This is why human rights will be a big loser in Egypt for the next four years because it will have no defenders in the White House,” said Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian-American sociologist and a human rights advocate. “Trump is a dictator himself, which is why his win is bad news for Egypt’s rights activists.”