US President Donald Trump appears increasingly to be the official sponsor of authoritarian regimes, a view given even more credence when he welcomed Egypt's President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi to the White House on Tuesday. Trump insists on giving overt backing to some of the most brutal regimes in the world, and gave the green light to Sisi's attempt to extend his presidential term.
"He's doing a great job," Trump said. "I don't know about the effort. I can just tell you he's doing a great job… great president." The US President appears not to be one of those who see the attempt to extend Sisi's term in office as a means to cement his dictatorship. Washington obviously doesn't care about the consequences of giving the Egyptian leader its seal of approval, even though Trump's endorsement and description of Sisi insults all Americans who care about human rights.
Speaking to journalists, Trump referred to Sisi as "my friend", which brings to the mind an old Spanish proverb: "Tell me who your friends are, and I'll tell you who you are." Very apt.
"The Sisi visit is a reward to Egypt's President for its cooperation with the United States on a very narrow set of issues, such as counterterrorism and protection of Christians, but Sisi has done very little to deserve it," former diplomat and ex-director of the Middle East and North Africa programmes at Freedom House, Charles W Dunne, told me. "The Trump administration is in effect endorsing Sisi's move to install himself as president at least until 2034 and impose other constitutional changes that will worsen authoritarian rule in the country."
Dunne added that the visit will be seen by the Egyptian people as US approval of Sisi's move and a sign that Washington is abandoning all those who want greater freedom, such as the tens of thousands of political prisoners in Egypt's jails. "Since Trump has such warm feelings toward dictators, this is no surprise, but it harms US interests and is a disgrace that all Americans who believe in human rights and democracy should abhor."
Since the Egyptian President came into power, he has taken his country onto a new path, with a human rights record that is worse than at any other time in Egypt's history. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), since the 2013 military coup, "[The] Egyptian authorities have arrested or charged probably at least 60,000 people, forcibly disappeared hundreds for months at a time, handed down preliminary death sentences to hundreds more, tried thousands of civilians in military courts, and created at least 19 new prisons or jails to hold this influx." This explains how freedom of expression is a major issue that should have been addressed during Sisi's visit to Washington, but apparently wasn't.
Furthermore, in May 2017, the authorities in Egypt took steps to block 21 websites, thereby ushering in an unprecedented period of media control. In addition, in February, nine men were executed after being found guilty of killing Egypt's former top prosecutor, Hisham Barakat, thereby bringing the number of people executed in less than one month to fifteen. Although there have been organisations which condemned the executions, it looks as if this means nothing to the US President and his administration.
Moreover, although 17 senators urged US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to address "the erosion of political and human rights" in Egypt, the State Department's press release regarding his meeting with Sisi made no mention of this.
Perhaps what Donald Trump fails to understand is that he is harming his country's reputation more than anything else simply by the way that he behaves and speaks. Breaking the traditional position that former administrations have adopted when it comes to human rights suggests that he is willing to shift America's entire policy on the issue; they are simply not a priority for him. If the murder of Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi officials, the Saudi-led Coalition's war in Yemen, the arrest of peaceful activists by the government in Riyadh and human rights breaches in Egypt are not enough to move the US President to action, what will be?
It is time for President Trump to realise that he has made the White House a sanctuary for brutal dictators and sadists. Not raising the necessary issues to challenge such tyrants is an insult to the people they oppress, as well as to justice-loving American citizens.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.