Last November, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was the first leader of an Arab state to congratulate Donald Trump over the phone for his election as U.S. president. It was a phone call of liberation to express the satisfaction of the Egyptian regime, the result of a 2013 coup against the Islamists. El-Sisi was celebrating the end of the presidency of Barack Obama, who had developed relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, and the victory of the tycoon who proclaims he wants to fight “radical Islamic terrorism” tirelessly.
On Saturday, el-Sisi landed in Washington to establish a new alliance between Egypt and the United States. In January, the White House confirmed its commitment to maintain the military and economic aid to Egypt (more than $2 billion per year) provided for in the 1979 Camp David agreements. It is the first official visit by an Egyptian president to the White House since 2010, when Hosni Mubarak met Obama on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
El-Sisi will stay in Washington for five days and will meet with Trump on Monday. On Sunday, however, he met with the World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis. The Egyptian president is also expected participate in a panel discussion with the leaders of major American companies that are investing in Egypt or have announced plans to do.
The el-Sisi regime is dealing with a devastating economic crisis in Egypt — which recently led to popular protests — and is desperate for international aid. Until now, the Arab world has responded only partially to the Egyptians appeals. Moreover, relations with Saudi Arabia, which promised investments in Egypt for over $20 billion and supplies of cheap crude oil, have become tense since Cairo has taken a softer line against Bashar al-Assad, the enemy of Riyadh. This is a line shared by the new U.S. administration that has made it known it no longer considers a priority to remove the Syrian president from power.
El-Sisi will try to show up at the interview with Trump as the most reliable U.S. ally in the Arab world and win his hand against the Saudi “brothers.” He will discuss topics with the U.S. president such as the fight against ISIS and more generally against Islamism — the new administration would intend to proclaim the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist group” — the wars and the crisis in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, as well as economic stability in the Middle East region.
They are also likely to examine the Palestinian issue, as el-Sisi himself announced during a recent meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas. On the table, there will also be the Arab initiative approved at the 2002 Arab summit and re-launched a few days ago at the summit in Jordan, which offers Israel recognition and peace treaties with all the countries of the region in return for its withdrawal from the Palestinian and Arab territories occupied in 1967. Trump would have in mind the convening of a regional meeting in the Middle East, to sit down with Israel and Arab countries at the negotiating table.