Factbox: Egypt’s Sisi Meets with Trump, Clinton in New York

On the sidelines of the 71st session of the United States General Assembly on September 19, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with US presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Sisi’s meetings with Trump and Clinton sparked considerable discussion around what the US-Egyptian relationship would look like under either presidency. Meanwhile, as in 2015, Sisi conducted interviews with a number of prominent American news outlets, including PBS and CNN. In both his meetings with the US presidential candidates and his interviews, Sisi praised the US-Egyptian relationship and emphasized the need to fight terrorism in the face of ongoing security concerns.

Meeting with Trump

In what was Trump’s first meeting with a leader from the Muslim world since his nomination, the Republican presidential candidate focused almost solely on Egypt’s role in the fight against “radical Islamic terrorism,” according to a statement released by the Trump campaign. Trump praised Egypt’s history and its “leadership role” in the Middle East and North Africa. He also promised Sisi that, were he to be elected president of the United States, the US would “be a loyal friend, not simply an ally” to Egypt and would support the North African country’s efforts to defeat “radical Islamic terrorism.” The statement added that Trump “emphasized his high regard for peace-loving Muslims.”

In an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, Sisi said there is “no doubt” that Trump would make a strong US president. On Trump’s past remarks about banning Muslims from entering the United States, Sisi said, “During election campaigns, many statements are made, and many things are said, however afterwards, the actual government will be something different, and will be subject to many factors.” He added, “During election campaigns there is a perception based on a certain vision and a point of view…that vision or point of view gets corrected and develops as a result of governing experience, reports, and advice from experts.”

Trump advisor Walid Phares called Trump’s meeting with Sisi “historic.” Phares said that during the meeting, Trump expressed support for a bill approved by the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee earlier this year calling on the State Department to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization. He added that the passage of the legislation depends on support from a majority in Congress.

Meeting with Clinton

According to a statement issued by the Clinton campaign, Sisi and the former secretary of state discussed bilateral relations between the United States and Egypt, as well as “cooperation on a range of issues, including counterterrorism.”

Clinton “emphasized the importance of respect for rule of law and human rights to Egypt’s future progress,” and in particular urged Sisi to release Aya Hegazy, a human rights activist and dual Egyptian-US citizen who has been detained in Egypt for two years along with her husband.

Hegazy’s imprisonment was recently brought, once again, to the attention of the US government. On September 16, White House Deputy National Security Advisor Avril Haines met with Hegazy’s family and called on Egypt to drop all charges against Hegazy and release her from prison. This followed a press conference by Congressman Don Beyer and Congressman Gerry Connolly calling for her release. In response, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry accused “official circles” within the United States of disrespecting the rule of law. The Ministry said that Hegazy has been treated “exceptionally well” in Egypt because of her US citizenship.

Sisi reportedly told Clinton he wished to discuss “the path that 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. And as a matter of fact we are taking this path that is eventually leading up to this target.”

Following his meetings with the candidates, Sisi defended Egypt’s human rights record during an interview with Charlie Rose. He accused media outlets of failing to provide an accurate representation of the human rights situation.

Sisi also commented on an Egyptian court decision to freeze the assets of a number of prominent human rights activists and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) for allegedly receiving foreign funding. “There is a misunderstanding regarding this case which is giving a negative impression about Egypt,” he told Rose on PBS.

US Reactions

Prior to the meetings, the Working Group on Egypt, a nonpartisan group of US-based scholars and experts chaired by the Carnegie Endowment’s Michele Dunne and the Brookings Institution’s Robert Kagan, published a letter warning that the meetings with Sisi would be met as endorsement of his policies. The letter asserted that “the Sisi government’s actions have been harmful to Egyptian interests” as well as “contrary to American interests,” and urged the candidates not to meet with Sisi until “after much study and assessment of US policy toward Egypt.”

The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy and Robert F. Kennedy for Human Rights also sent a letter to the candidates ahead of their respective meetings with Sisi. The letter called on Trump and Clinton to “reconsider the false dichotomy between Egyptian citizens’ rights and freedoms and the country’s security threats,” emphasizing that the next administration “should press the Egyptian government to take steps to respect the rights and freedoms of the Egyptian people.”

Egyptian Reactions

Daily News Egypt reported that Sisi’s arrival in New York was met with rallies of expatriates in support of the Egyptian president and his delegation. His meetings with the presidential candidates, meanwhile, garnered mixed reactions online. Some Egyptians on social media criticized Sisi for meeting with Trump, who many view as having expressed anti-Muslim rhetoric throughout his campaign. Vocativ reported that others welcomed Sisi’s meeting with Trump and accused Clinton of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

Statements by the Muslim Brotherhood urged the former secretary of state not to meet with the Egyptian leader. A letter from the Brotherhood to Clinton said a meeting with Sisi would “discredit” her reputation among human rights respecting countries. The letter also referenced her running mate Tim Kaine’s past calls for the United States to support human rights in Egypt. The Egyptian press reported minor clashes between Brotherhood supporters and Sisi supporters in New York upon Sisi’s arrival.

Meanwhile, former member of parliament Mohamed Kamal wrote in Al Masry Al Youm that many of Trump’s foreign policy statements have been in line with Egypt’s position, chiefly regarding “the use of military force to fight terrorism.”

The Egyptian press also covered Sisi’s interview with Charlie Rose and emphasized his assertions that events in Egypt are being misrepresented in the media.

Elissa Miller is a program assistant at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

Jenna Amlani is an intern at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

Image: President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventieth session, September 28, 2015. (UN Photo)