When Donald Trump welcomes Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to the White House on Tuesday, expect the U.S. president to stress military cooperation even amid questions about that country’s human rights record.
Human rights groups are accusing Sisi’s government of torturing political foes and using death sentences against opponents. What’s more, the Egyptian parliament has approved constitutional changes that would extend Sisi’s time in office.
Though White House officials say both matters will come up when the leaders meet Tuesday afternoon, expect their meetings to focus on deepening economic and military ties.
Here are three things to watch as Trump tries to keep Sisi from drifting too close to Russia.
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The Egyptian parliament overwhelmingly approved changes that would allow Sisi to remain in office until 2034, with 485 of its 596 members voting in favor of altering their country’s constitution.
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Eleven human rights groups there have signed a letter saying the proposed changes, which will need another vote, “effectively serve to destroy the constitutional separation of powers, concentrating all authority into the president’s hands and solidifying his authoritarian rule,” The Associated Press reported.
But don’t expect Trump to urge Sisi to put the kibosh on the proposal.
A senior administration official who briefed reporters Monday on his visit said the Trump White House will continue its “ongoing encouragement for democratic institutions” in the Middle Eastern country. But, the official said, the administration’s policy toward Egypt must be viewed through the “lens” of Trump’s “America first” approach. The senior official never expressed any concern about Sisi moving to extend his term.
Sisi’s government reportedly is finalizing a deal to buy more than 20 Su-35 fighter jets as part of a $2 billion deal. Cairo already is purchasing Moscow’s MiG-29 fighters.
The Su-35 deal has alarmed the Trump administration as it seeks to pull Sisi toward the U.S. even amid signs he is moving closer to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“In terms of the expanding Russian influence in the region, that’s obviously something which we are quite concerned [about]. We don’t see a lot of material benefits to engagements with the Russians,” the senior official said Monday. “We just would encourage the Egyptians to turn more toward the West, toward the United States.”
The senior official, in a warning to Sisi, noted the administration has the power via the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act to take retaliatory measures against any country that does business with Moscow.
“We would urge countries that wish to expand military relations with the United States to take the very seriously,” the senior official said.
Often when other world leaders visit the White House, Trump keeps his morning Twitter habit limited. But not always.
Tuesday was one of the exceptions.
The president had his mind on his domestic political foes ahead of his midday meetings with Sisi, appearing to welcome a renewed fight with House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler. The president tweeted about a dispute the two had while he was a real estate developer in New York, saying “ Only time will tell!” what will come of Nadler’s investigation into all things Trump.
The president claimed he “got along very well with Jerry during the zoning and building process” for a development in Manhattan. He contended Nadler “wanted a Rail Yard built underneath the development or even better, to stop the job.”
Though Trump has personally attacked or tried to discredit many of his foes, he held off on doing so with Nadler on Tuesday. “I am dealing with Congressman Nadler again. Some things never end, but hopefully it will all go well for everyone,” he tweeted.
Congressman Jerry Nadler fought me for years on a very large development I built on the West Side of Manhattan. He wanted a Rail Yard built underneath the development or even better, to stop the job. He didn’t get either & the development became VERY successful. Nevertheless,….— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 9, 2019
….I got along very well with Jerry during the zoning and building process. Then I changed course (slightly), became President, and now I am dealing with Congressman Nadler again. Some things never end, but hopefully it will all go well for everyone. Only time will tell!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 9, 2019