President Trump meets today with President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt. The meeting is widely expected to rebuild the relationship between Egypt and the United States, a relationship soured by former President Barack Obama freezing out cash flow financing to Egypt, one of the U.S.’s closest and longest-standing alliances in the region according to Reuters.
But just who is President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi? According to the BBC, he graduated from the Egyptian Military Academy in 1977 and served in the infantry. He eventually rose to command a mechanized infantry division and eventually served as information and security chief at the Defense Ministry, military attaché in Saudi Arabia, and commander of Egypt’s Northern Military Zone. In 2012, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi appointed al-Sisi as the head of Egypt’s armed forces.
This appointment was seen as an attempt by Mr. Morsi to rein in the military’s power. The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (Scaf), of which al-Sisi was a member, ran an interim government after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak. Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-led government soon came under heavy criticism, which erupted in nationwide protests in 2013. Everyday Egyptians, concerned with continued economic struggles and a belief that their government was heading towards a more theocratic Islamist stance, took to the streets.
After months of protests, General al-Sisi delivered a televised ultimatum. If the government did not respond to the will of the people, the army would intervene. He delivered on his promise, and in July of 2013, President Morsi was overthrown. He resigned from the military on 26 March 2014 to run for president and took office in June of that year.
Former President Obama criticized then-General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi’s overthrow of Mohamed Morsi in mid-2013 and the subsequent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, which al-Sisi considers a terrorist organization. Today’s visit will be the first visit by Egyptian leadership in seven years.
The two presidents are expected to discuss the future of U.S. aid to Egypt in the wake of President Trump’s new budget proposals. Egypt currently receives $1.3 billion annually in U.S. military aid and the Egyptian president will most probably look to reinstate the practice of cash-flow financing, which President Obama froze in 2015, that would allow Egypt to buy military equipment on credit. It is highly unlikely, however, that the annual aid amounts will remain the same. President Trump has called for massive foreign aid cuts in exchange for an increase in defense spending. It is quite possible that reinstitution of cash-flow financing would bridge the gap between current and projected aid dollars.
Also on the agenda will be anti-terrorism cooperation and fighting ISIS. Egypt is currently fighting an Islamist insurgency in the Sinai, and the Egyptian government has been cracking down on Muslim Brotherhood presence, which it considers in the same bag as ISIS. This crackdown has received global ire from human rights groups, who estimate the Egyptian government has detained at least 40,000 political prisoners. White House officials have stated that any conversation over human rights issues will be made in private.
While detractors call the Egyptian government repressive, President Trump has revealed great admiration for the Egyptian leader. President al-Sisi met his American counterpart when President Trump was still on the campaign trail, and the Egyptian leader has spoken highly of him. President Trump, as well, has praised President al-Sisi stating, “We are very much behind President al-Sisi, he’s done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation” in comments made earlier today.
What transpires in the next few hours will shape the course of the United States’ posture and future involvement in the Middle East. With the United States embroiled in conflict for the better part of two decades, it will become increasingly vital, both economically and strategically, to utilize allies and assets within the region. If all goes well today, we can see a rebuilding of the U.S./Egypt relationship and a stronger, more fruitful alliance in the battle against Islamist terrorism.