Trump and Clinton Roll Out Welcome Mat for Egyptian Junta Leader
The presidential candidates of both major political parties sought to flaunt their foreign policy credentials Monday by holding personal meetings with Egyptian junta leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has overseen a violent crackdown on political dissent, including large-scale massacres of protesters.
Following their meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, Donald Trump showered effusive praise on the dictator, with a readout from his campaign stating that he “thanked President al-Sisi and the Egyptian people for what they have done in defense of their country and for the betterment of the world over the last few years.”
“Mr. Trump expressed to President al-Sisi his strong support for Egypt’s war on terrorism, and how under a Trump administration, the United States of America will be a loyal friend, not simply an ally, that Egypt can count on in the days and years ahead,” the campaign statement continued.
In one eyebrow-raising paragraph, Trump’s campaign stated, “Mr. Trump emphasized to President al-Sisi his high regard for peace-loving Muslims and understands that every day there are people of goodwill that sacrifice their lives and fortunes to combat the growing threat of radical Islamic terrorism.”
Trump has hinged his candidacy on anti-Muslim policies, including his vow to ban Muslims from the United States and his recent call for police to profile Arab and Muslim men, taking the cue from Israel.
Trump was not the only presidential candidate to endorse al-Sisi’s legitimacy on Monday. According to CNN journalists Stephen Collinson, Dan Merica and Jim Acosta, “While reporters were in the room, Clinton told al-Sisi that she looked forward to talking about the ‘path we are taking in order to build up a new civil society, a new modern country that upholds the rule of law, that respects human rights and liberties.’”
CNN reports that Clinton, “according to an aide in the room, ‘emphasized the importance of respect for rule of law and human rights to Egypt's future progress’ and ‘discussed ways to deepen counterterrorism cooperation, particularly in the fight against ISIS.’” Clinton also reportedly pressed al-Sisi to release U.S. citizen Aya Hijazi, who has been imprisoned in Egypt since May 2014 for operating a nonprofit NGO, the Belady Foundation.
This is not the first time Clinton has held a personal meeting with al-Sisi. In September 2014, she and Bill Clinton met with the Egyptian president during the UNGA meetings.
That meeting came on the heels of her prior support for the authoritarian rule of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. In 2009, Clinton proclaimed, “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.” In the initial days of the 2011 uprising against Mubarak’s regime, she threw her support behind Mubarak before later shifting course.
The candidates’ meetings came just two days after an Egyptian court agreed to freeze the personal and organizational assets of some of Egypt's premiere human rights organizations, on specious charges that they pose a threat to national security.
That development is just the latest in a string of human rights abuses in which al-Sisi is implicated. While he was defense minister, al-Sisi oversaw and publicly defended the August 2013 massacre of sit-in protesters in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square and other locations, which killed up to 1,000 people.
Al-Sisi rose to the presidency through a military coup in June 2014, and upon taking power, suspended the country’s constitution, appointed officials from the deposed Hosni Mubarak regime and initiated a violent crackdown on dissent. In the first year of his reign, Egyptian authorities "detained, charged, or sentenced at least 41,000 people."
Al-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence reported in January that, in 2015, Egyptian authorities perpetrated 640 cases of individual torture and 36 cases of mass torture in Egyptian jails. According to their findings, nearly 500 people were killed by Egyptian security forces that year.
In July, Amnesty International reported that “Egypt’s National Security Agency (NSA) is abducting, torturing and forcibly disappearing people in an effort to intimidate opponents and wipe out peaceful dissent.” According to their findings, an average of three to four people are seized every day, unleashing a trend in which "hundreds of students, political activists and protesters, including children as young as 14, vanish without trace at the hands of the state.”
Amid these abuses, al-Sisi has received favorable treatment from the Obama administration, which approved shipments of weapons and fighter jets to al-Sisi's government. In February, Intercept reporter Zaid Jilani revealed that Obama proposed to remove key human rights conditions on U.S. military aid to Egypt.