Trump, Sisi prioritise fighting terror

Sisi’s visit to New York comes as Egypt’s relations with the United States continue to bloom following turbulent times with former US President Barack Obama.
Sunday 30/09/2018
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (L) and US President Donald Trump during a bilateral meeting in New York, on September 24.			                         (Egyptian Presidency)
Edging closer. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (L) and US President Donald Trump during a bilateral meeting in New York, on September 24. (Egyptian Presidency)

CAIRO - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and US President Donald Trump exchanged repeated thanks and congratulations during a meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

This was the fifth time they had met in the past two years, highlighting their close relationship. Trump described Sisi as a “great friend” and Sisi hailed the US president for his ongoing support for Egypt during a news conference September 24.

Tremendous change has occurred on the local, regional and international scene since Sisi first met Trump, then candidate for president, in September 2016.

“Egypt is already beyond its internal turmoil and the legitimacy crisis it suffered soon after the army-backed popular uprising against Islamist President Muhammad Morsi in mid-2013,” said Amira al-Shanawani, a political science professor at Cairo University. “This means that the Egyptian president is in a much stronger position as he presents his country’s case in front of world leaders at the United Nations.”

Sisi’s visit to New York comes as Egypt’s relations with the United States continue to bloom following turbulent times with former US President Barack Obama, who was critical of Cairo’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.

While Obama was president, the US Congress withheld tens of millions of dollars in economic and military aid to Egypt and the Pentagon practically froze military cooperation with Cairo, refusing to return several Apache helicopters Egypt had sent to the United States for maintenance.

Trump entered the White House expressing admiration with what he described during his presidential campaign as Sisi’s “courageous” war against terrorism and has made counterterrorism one of the main pillars of US support for Egypt.

At his meeting with Sisi, Trump said Egypt was “at the forefront” of the fight against terrorism. “We will work with you and we will go all the way,” the US president said. Sisi asserted that Egypt would eliminate terrorism with Trump’s support.

Following his meeting with the US president, Sisi wrote on Twitter that he was honoured to meet with Trump, describing him as a “great man who made unique change in US policies around the world.”

Egypt was at the centre of this policy change. The US administration has released tens of millions of dollars in suspended economic and military aid, US businessmen are arriving in Cairo in droves and Egypt and the United States are resuming military cooperation. The two sides had the Bright Star military exercises in September at a military base in Egypt’s Western Desert.

The military games, which used to occur every two years, had been a sign of the strength of Egyptian-US military cooperation but were suspended eight years ago after the “Arab spring.”

Personal chemistry between Trump and Sisi aside, stronger Egypt-US relations come at a time when Cairo also enjoys strengthening relations with Russia and China, analysts said. Egypt has tried to diversify its alliances and military supplies, with Cairo moving to secure arms deals with Moscow, Beijing and Paris.

“This is why there are fears in the United States that stronger ties between Egypt on one hand and international rivals Russia and China on the other could dampen Cairo’s ties with Washington,” said Hassan Wagih, a professor of international relations at al-Azhar University.

Apart from being a cornerstone of US policy in the Middle East and the preferential treatment Egypt gives US ships transiting the Suez Canal, Egypt is important for the implementation of Trump’s regional security plans, including peacemaking between the Palestinians and the Israelis, analysts said.

“Egypt makes consultations with all partners, most importantly the United States, to resume peacemaking between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said following the Sisi-Trump meeting. “We hope this can help the Palestinians obtain their right to establish their independent state, with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

Egypt has good relations with the Palestinians, the Israelis and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. These strong relations make Cairo most capable of bringing parties together and influencing their decisions, analysts said.

While in New York, Sisi also met Jordanian King Abdullah II, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

“This is why Cairo is an ally the United States is not ready to lose,” said Saad al-Zunt, the head of Egyptian think-tank Strategic Studies Centre. “It is a regional player on which the United States counts to bring the region back in order, especially now that Cairo is regaining its strength and position in Arab politics after years of domestic unrest.”

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