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Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi during a press conference, Cairo, March 2, 2017 (AP photo by Nariman El-Mofty).

Egypt’s Strongman Heads to Washington, Where He Can Expect a Warm Welcome

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Egypt’s president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, is coming to Washington next week, and he can expect a warm welcome. After all, President Donald Trump praised him during last year’s election campaign as a “fantastic guy.” Following a meeting with el-Sissi in New York during the United Nations General Assembly in September, then-candidate Trump promised that under his administration, the United States “will be a loyal friend, not simply an ally, that Egypt can count on in the days and years ahead.” Unlike German Chancellor Angela Merkel, el-Sissi—who has thrown tens of thousands of dissidents into Egypt’s jails—will almost certainly get a handshake with Trump in the Oval Office on April 3.

The White House let it be known that el-Sissi’s visit was at Trump’s invitation, after Egyptian newspapers first reported the news. The two leaders are building a rapport based on mutual praise, but also strategic silences. The first phone call Trump took after his win last November was from Egypt’s general-turned-president, who took power in a 2013 coup before winning a subsequent election. In the first days of the Trump administration, though, el-Sissi refused to comment when Trump, by executive order, imposed his initial travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries, including several Arab nations. The Arab world’s most populous country—a place that still tries to assume a mantle of regional leadership, even though that has long since faded—made it clear that it is “on the Trump train,” as the BBC’s reporter in Cairo put it. ...

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