Trump Praises Egypt’s El-Sisi Amid Efforts to Extend Rule

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump delivered a political gift to Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi on Tuesday, praising the leader’s performance when asked about Sisi’s campaign to change Egypt’s Constitution so he can stay in power through 2034.

“He’s doing a great job,” Trump said Tuesday after he was asked about Sisi’s attempt to extend his term. “I don’t know about the effort. I can just tell you he’s doing a great job.”

Trump’s remarks likely will draw the ire of lawmakers and human rights advocates who have said Sisi is undermining democracy in his country. At the same time, Sisi faces growing bipartisan concerns from the U.S. Congress over the detention of Americans in Egypt, human rights abuses and a deepening military relationship with Russia.

The scrutiny has renewed questions about U.S. aid to Cairo.

An administration official who spoke with reporters before the visit said the president’s team has spoken openly with Sisi’s government about democratic reforms. But the official said Trump primarily views his relationship with Egypt, as with other countries, through the lens of his “America First” approach, and must weigh reform efforts against the security interests of the U.S.

“The two leaders engaged in a frank discussion on regional developments in Libya and the threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood,” the White House said in a statement on Tuesday evening. “Both leaders expressed their mutual commitment to promoting religious liberty,” the White House added in the statement.

Sisi also met with Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter and one of his advisers, and “discussed opportunities to work together to advance President El-Sisi’s proposed agenda with regard to women’s economic empowerment and entrepreneurship in Egypt and the region, increasing access to credit and job opportunities,” the White House said.

In a letter Monday to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote that it is “critical to stress that our partnerships are stronger and more sustainable when rooted in shared values including democratic governance, political and economic freedom, and fundamental human rights for all citizens.”

The official said Trump and Vice President Mike Pence would press for the release of detained Americans, and for fair treatment of religious minorities. Trump made no mention of those issues to reporters. The leaders also were expected to discuss border and maritime security, the Sinai, counter-terrorism efforts and the economy.

The meeting took place on the same day as Israeli elections to determine the fate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and less than a month after the 40-year anniversary of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. Egypt has played a role in brokering ceasefires with Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, and cooperates with the U.S. military.

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