On the first four days of his visit to New York to attend the UN General Assembly, the coup leader and President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, sat kicking his heels waiting to meet Barack Obama. On the fifth day, he was finally granted an audience with the American president. It was his first official visit as a controversial president and his legitimacy was clearly still open to question.
Obama wasn’t alone among world leaders in showing a reluctance to meet Al-Sisi; indeed, only the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II showed any interest. Al-Sisi comforted himself with meeting some of America’s legion of ex-officials, such as Henry Kissinger, one of the most prominent theorists and architects of US-Israel foreign policy. The former secretary of state is well-known for his support of the Israeli occupation and has reiterated several positions in favour of the Zionist state, as demonstrated in his bias against Egypt in the 1973 October War.
The Egyptian president also met with Madeleine Albright, another former US Secretary of State (1997-2001) who showed her shameful bias towards the Israelis during the second Palestinian uprising. She was merciless during the Gulf War when, in response to a question about the killing of 500,000 children due to US-led sanctions, she uttered her now infamous reply: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.” Al-Sisi also met with former US President Bill Clinton, and his wife Hillary, another former Secretary of State.
His speech at the UN General Assembly sparked a new round of ridicule against Al-Sisi on Facebook and Twitter, which mocked his linguistic errors and repetition of words and sentences. Despite it being more than a year since his coup which overthrew the democratically-elected Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Sisi opened his UN speech by attacking the movement and criticising Morsi’s year in office; the man appears to have an inferiority complex.
In a week which saw 11 Egyptians committing suicide due to financial difficulties, including a 48-year old man who hanged himself on a motorway billboard and an elderly man immolating himself in front of a government ministry, Al-Sisi spoke of his legitimacy and repeated his claim to represent all Egyptians. Some political analysts declared that this was one of the worst speeches ever to be given by an Egyptian leader at the General Assembly.
Nevertheless, the speech was duly applauded by the Egyptian loyalists accompanying their boss. According to the Professor of Political Science at Cairo University, Nadia Mustafa, for the president’s own entourage to applaud him was “unusual” protocol. Professor Mustafa added that the president’s repetition of “I represent all Egyptians, I represent all Egyptians” suggests that “he knows that he only represents himself and the pro-coup people around him.”
In stark contrast, in the 2012 General Assembly every delegate was waiting eagerly to listen to the then President Morsi, the first to be elected following the 25 January Revolution. Morsi did not feel the need to emphasise that he was the Egyptian president who represented all Egyptians, because he was there as President of Egypt.
Turkey’s newly-elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticised the UN for conferring legitimacy on Al-Sisi and the bloody coup which he led against a democratically-elected president by allowing him to speak at the General Assembly. “We should respect the choice of the people at the ballot box,” said Erdogan. “If we want to support coups, then why does the UN even exist?” The international body, he added, should not recognise someone who came to power after killing thousands of his own citizens who took to the streets to demonstrate for their democratic rights.
Erdogan used the four-finger Rabaa sign in remembrance of and solidarity with the pro-democracy supporters who were killed in Rabaa Al-Adawiyya square on 14th August last year. “Those who stay silent about the massacre of children, innocent women and the overthrowing of democratically elected governments by force must share in the responsibility for those crimes,” he insisted.
In his first US television interview since becoming president, Al-Sisi was quizzed by CBS presenter Charlie Rose about Egypt’s position in the US-Arab coalition’s fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and whether the Egyptian Air force will take part. Al-Sisi’s immediate response was to smile and ask, “Do you even need the Egyptian Air Force?” Ross replied, “Yes, because the President would not like it to be Americans alone against Muslims.” At this, the Egyptian president nodded his head and said, “True, true.” Rose, still not getting a clear answer asked again if Egypt would support the strikes, and Al-Sisi laughed. “Give us the Apaches and the F16s that you have been suspending for over a year and a half now.” This was a reference to the $1.3 billion annual military aid from the US which was halted after last summer’s coup. Al-Sisi emphasised his support for the US air strikes, but reiterated that he expects a resumption of US military aid in return. “The coalition has been formed and we are part of this coalition,” he said.
In interviews with the Wall Street Journal and TIME magazine, Al-Sisi again pledged his support for the US-led war against ISIS. Asked if Egypt might provide airspace access or logistical support for airstrikes, he said: “We are completely committed to giving support. We will do whatever is required.” In a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday, Al-Sisi said that the US-led coalition should widen its campaign against extremism beyond Iraq, Syria and ISIS fighters, and fight other militant groups in the region.
Al-Sisi has cited terrorist threats in Libya, Sudan, Yemen and the Sinai Peninsula as mirroring the danger posed to the Middle East and the West by ISIS. Speaking to the Associated Press, he insisted that the actions he took following his ouster of Morsi and the ferocious crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters were to combat militancy and save the country from civil war. He told AP that Egypt is a model for fighting terrorism and that the coalition fighting ISIS should take note.
Despite last month’s Human Rights Watch Report which called on the UN to investigate Al-Sisi over the Rabaa massacre in Cairo in which over 1,000 people were killed, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met the Egyptian leader in New York; he expressed his “concerns” regarding freedom in Egypt.
The former army general has received much international criticism since he ousted Egypt’s first freely-elected president, and the massacres and barbarous crackdown thereafter. It appears that world leaders have still not warmed up to Al-Sisi. They did not rush to greet him at the UN and his speech struck a chord with his own delegation and few, if any, others. However, the fact that he was at the UN General Assembly meeting at all after the killing and torturing of thousands of Egyptian citizens degrades the world body; his presence took the UN to a new low.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.