Friday,27 April, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1339, (6 - 12 April 2017)
Friday,27 April, 2018
Issue 1339, (6 - 12 April 2017)

Ahram Weekly

‘New era in US-Egyptian relations’

Mohamed Abdel-Baky reports from Washington on the first visit to the White House by an Egyptian president since 2009

#Al-Sisi and Trump shake hands during the press conference #delegations of both countries discuss bilateral relations # Al-Sisi meets King Abdullah of Jordan during his visit to the US
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President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s visit to Washington took place amid heightened security following calls by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to protest against the Egyptian government. But the visit passed without disturbances. In the end a single protest organised by Brotherhood supporters was held, while four rallies took place in Washington staged by Egyptian expatriate supporters of Al-Sisi.

The failure of the Brotherhood’s calls for anti-government protests is symptomatic of the new US administration’s campaign against the group. While current attempts by Congress members and Senators to designate the Brotherhood as a terrorist group are not expected to succeed they have nonetheless pulled the carpet from beneath the Brotherhood’s ability to lobby in Washington against the Egyptian government.

Al-Sisi arrived in Washington on Saturday 1 April. He was received warmly by US President Donald Trump who gave him a special tour of the White House before they retired to the Oval Office for a meeting.

“It’s great to be with the president of Egypt. President Al-Sisi has been very close to me from the first time I met him during the campaign, and hopefully you like me a lot more,” Trump said following the Oval Office meeting.

“I just want to let everybody know, in case there was any doubt, that we are very much behind President Al-Sisi. He’s done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation. We are very much behind Egypt and the people of Egypt, we have strong backing.”

Increasing military cooperation was a central issue in the talks between the two leaders.

“We are building up our military to a level that will be the highest — probably the highest that we’ve ever had — plane orders, ship orders, aircraft carrier orders,” Trump said.

Al-Sisi stressed that he considers the visit as a turning point in relations after a decade of tensions.

“Allow me to extend my thanks and appreciation for your kind invitation; actually, this is my first state visit to the United States since my inauguration in office… and the first visit in eight years from an Egyptian president to the United States,” said Al-Sisi.

He said Egypt is seeking to restore stability to the region by countering terrorism through cooperation with the US and other international and regional partners.

“I’ve had a deep appreciation for you, especially as you are standing very strong in the counter-terrorism field to counter this evil ideology that is claiming innocent lives, that is bringing devastation to communities and nations and that is terrorising innocent people,” said Al-Sisi.

The peace process was also on the agenda of the Trump/Al-Sisi meeting.

“You will find me supporting you very strongly and very earnestly in finding solutions to the problem of the century. And I’m quite confident that you will be able to bring a solution to this issue,” said Al-Sisi.

In the meeting, attended by senior officials from both sides, Al-Sisi explained the economic reforms adopted by the Egyptian government and steps taken to improve the investment climate.

Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said the two countries had a mutual interest in defeating terrorism in Sinai and in working together on regional stability through fighting ISIS and reviving the peace process.

“There is appreciation in the White House that President Al-Sisi’s efforts to spark religious reform are sincere and far more extensive than many Western diplomats realise,” Rubin said. “Additionally, we have a mutual interest in advancing the Israel-Palestine peace process. Al-Sisi is better positioned than any other leader to advance the process since he has the trust of both the Israeli and the Palestinian leaderships.”

Egyptian officials told Al-Ahram Weekly that the talks between Al-Sisi and Trump marked a new era in countering radicalisation in the Middle East.

“Egypt could help the global counter-terrorism efforts by using its soft power tools to advocate for religious tolerance, education reform and women’s empowerment. Such efforts will help protect future generations from extremism,” one official said.

He added that Washington and Cairo share concerns over Iranian interference via foreign proxies and the instability caused by disputes in Yemen, Syria and Iraq.

“There may still be disagreements but the Trump-Al-Sisi meeting symbolises a desire by both governments to repair their relationship. It will take some time but the commitment is there,” he said.

On designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation, Rubin warns the issue is far more complicated than many think.

“The Brotherhood showed how false its rhetoric of reform and democracy was when it briefly held power. However, there needs to be clarity on how extensive a designation would be given the size of the organisation,” he said.

In addition to the White House, Al-Sisi visited Congress and held meetings with the speaker of House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, the chairmen of the intelligence and foreign affairs committees and with the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The importance allocated to promoting investment in Egypt was clear by the inclusion of the Minister of Investment and International Cooperation Sahar Nasr, the Minister of Finance Amr Al-Garhi and Minister of Industry and Trade Tarek Kabil in the Egyptian delegation accompanying Al-Sisi.

“One of the most important aims of the visit is to promote investments in Egypt following the economic reforms undertaken by the government in recent months,” Nasr told the Weekly.

On Sunday Al-Sisi met with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim to discuss Egypt’s economic reform programme which has included a reduction in government subsidies and the floatation of the Egyptian pound.

“The World Bank is an important partner and strong supporter of Egyptian government plans to revive the economy. Over the last decade it has provided us with different kinds of financial and technical assistance,” said Presidency Spokesperson Alaa Youssef in a statement issued on Sunday.

On 20 March the World Bank disbursed $1 billion of its $3 billion loan programme to Egypt. Asad Alam, World Bank country director for Egypt, Yemen and Djibouti, said at the time that “the government has taken important steps in implementing key policy and institutional reforms that are laying down the foundations for accelerated job creation and inclusive growth.”

The meeting with Yong Kim focused on helping the Egyptian government improve the investment climate in Egypt.

Al-Sisi also met with Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric, to discuss cooperation on developing Egypt’s energy and transportation sectors, including the implementation of renewable energy projects. In April 2016 the two met in Cairo. At the time Immelt said General Electric was willing to expand its cooperation with the Egyptian government across a number of sectors.

The economic situation also topped the agenda during meetings on Monday at the US Chamber of Commerce where representatives of 12 of America’s biggest companies talked about the challenges American investors face in Egypt. During the course of discussions Al-Sisi vowed to overcome any obstacles hindering foreign direct investment in Egypt.

“The president promised to tackle issues that continue to hinder an increase of foreign direct investment,” said Nasr. She added that the Ministry of Investment was already preparing for a delegation to visit Egypt that will include representatives from major US companies. The delegation will explore investment opportunities in major development projects.

Trade Minister Tarek Kabil told the Weekly the US investment represents a big portion of the foreign direct investment and currently the government is working to increase it.

“One of the key elements of this visit is to get new companies to do business in Egypt and help to improve Egypt’s industrial and trade capacity,” said Kabil.

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