April 21st, 2017

Trump’s Egyptian policy bears fruit

An American-Egyptian couple who had been held in Egyptian prison were released recently:

Last weekend, Egyptian-American aid worker Aya Hijazi, who had become an international symbol of Sisi’s harsh crackdown on aid groups, was cleared of child-abuse and human-trafficking charges in Cairo after three years in detention.

The 30-year-old, who grew up in Falls Church, Virginia, had established a foundation to aid street children in Cairo along with her husband, Mohamed Hassanein, who is Egyptian. Human rights groups said the charges against them were not credible, and their hearing and trial dates were repeatedly canceled and postponed with no explanation. Hassanein and others arrested with the couple were released on Wednesday.

Late on Thursday night, the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration had quietly negotiated with Egypt to secure their release, and Hijazi and Hassanein had just landed at Joint Base Andrews aboard a government jet…

The Obama administration had unsuccessfully pushed for Hijazi’s release, and at times her family complained that they weren’t doing enough.

Trump is not wasting the opportunity to have a photo-op, nor should he waste it:

Hijazi and her brother, Basel, are scheduled to visit the White House on Friday, where they will meet with President Trump, his daughter Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, who officials said had been following her story.

“We’re very grateful that President Trump personally engaged with the issue,” Basel Hijazi told the Post. “Working closely with the Trump administration was very important for my family at this critical time. It let us be reunited as a family. We’re so grateful.”

All of that is interesting, and good news. But the more important news can be found in other parts of the article:

Earlier this month, President Trump welcomed Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to the White House for the first time, praising him for doing a “fantastic job in a difficult situation.” Sisi came to power through a military coup in 2013, and the Obama administration had barred him from the White House for human-rights abuses.

Al-Sisi is far from perfect, but in several crucial ways he appears so far to be one of the best leaders in the Middle East and one of the best Egypt has ever had. In fact, he’s one of those elusive “moderate Muslim” leaders we keep searching for, and he’s gone on record to stick his neck out to say so. I wrote at length about al-Sisi (you can spell his name any of several ways) here:

Al-Sisi was originally appointed by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi to the post of commander of the army, but proceeded to oust Morsi and then to outlaw the Brotherhood itself (and you thought Justice Roberts was betraying the people who nominated him!) and to be elected president in his own right.

This speech of al-Sisi’s seems extraordinary in its boldness and reasonableness. Can al-Sisi provide a voice for the heretofore silent—we have no idea whether they are a majority or small minority—of Muslims who might agree with him? Let’s hope he lives long enough for us to find out. His predecessor prior to Morsi, Mubarak, was a dictator, but part of the reason was that heavy-handed tactics are required to deal with the Brotherhood in Egypt…

…Al-Sisi [also] appears to be speaking more globally and generally about Islam itself and the course it should take in the 21st Century. I wish him luck. He’ll need it.

I wrote that over two years ago, and yet al-Sisi’s was one of the administrations that Obama decided to ostracize while embracing other dictators around the world. Trump has a more positive attitude towards al-Sisi, and (this is another especially interesting fact) Trump managed to keep relatively quiet about the negotiations for the prisoners while they were ongoing, showing a discretion that might surprise some people:

“We’re very grateful that President Trump personally engaged with the issue,” Basel Hijazi told the Post. “Working closely with the Trump administration was very important for my family at this critical time. It let us be reunited as a family. We’re so grateful.”

…Trump set out to reset relations with Egypt, and there was no public mention of Hijazi or human-rights abuses during Sisi’s White House visit.

However, a senior administration official told the Post that behind the scenes, President Trump told top aides, “I want her to come home.” The official said there was no quid pro quo offered for her release, but the Trump administration had received assurances from Sisi’s government that “whatever the verdict was, Egypt would use presidential authority to send her home.”…

According to the New York Times, during Sisi’s visit the White House felt confident that Hijazi would be released, but “they chose to take what they knew would be criticism in the news media and from political critics for not publicly mentioning her case.” Aides reportedly see the case as vindication of Trump’s diplomatic approach.

Unfortunately, Egypt and most of the other countries of the region cannot afford to be beacons of liberty. I wish it were otherwise, but it is not. I’ve written about the human rights problem in the region many many times, and not just in Egypt, either. You can find one of those Egypt posts of mine here (it includes links to many others), one about Iran here and another one here, all of which I strongly suggest you read.

Trump faces the same dilemma: whether to pressure any government in that area of the world on human and civil rights issues, and if so how much or how little. I believe that he’s correct to support al-Sisi in general, who is probably as good as it’s going to get in that region and is head and shoulders above so many others.

Not everyone agrees with me, of course, including those who served Obama:

Antony Blinken, the former deputy secretary of State under President Obama, said that while he’s pleased Hijazi has been released, he’s skeptical that Sisi received nothing in return for her freedom. He told the Post that the White House offering public support for strongmen like Sisi could “have the opposite effect of simply reinforcing [Sisi’s] crackdown at home, in a way I think someday is going to rebound against him, and probably rebound against us. … You can try to repress your problems away, but at some point, they will explode.”

In Egypt right now, the choices are al-Sisi, someone else who will crackdown even worse, or the Muslim Brotherhood. I know which I prefer.

12 Responses to “Trump’s Egyptian policy bears fruit”

  1. SharonW Says:

    Doesn’t Valerie Jarret’s family have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood? And Hillary Clinton’s right-hand, Huma Abedin has family ties to that group. I would find it surprising if especially in the case of Jarret that didn’t have something to do with the Obama administration’s position.

  2. Eric Says:

    President Clinton, 16DEC98, re the US-led enforcement of Iraq’s mandated compliance:

    In the century we’re leaving, America has often made the difference between chaos and community; fear and hope. Now, in a new century, we’ll have a remarkable opportunity to shape a future more peaceful than the past — but only if we stand strong against the enemies of peace.

    President Obama, 19MAY11, re Iraq’s progress at the dawn of the Arab Spring:

    Indeed, one of the broader lessons to be drawn from this period is that sectarian divides need not lead to conflict. In Iraq, we see the promise of a multiethnic, multisectarian democracy. The Iraqi people have rejected the perils of political violence in favor of a democratic process, even as they’ve taken full responsibility for their own security. Of course, like all new democracies, they will face setbacks. But Iraq is poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress. And as they do, we will be proud to stand with them as a steadfast partner.

    The best hope for a beacon of liberty in the region was post-Saddam Iraq rising with vital US-led peace operations … until President Obama contravened the Strategic Framework Agreement to disengage the peace operations.

    Even today, despite the reversal of Iraq’s progress, the best hope for a beacon of liberty in the region is still Iraq if the US will honor the SFA with the leadership of the free world needed to correct for Obama’s errors and bring Iraq back on track.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/iraqi-prime-minister-my-country-needs-more-help-from-the-us/2017/03/23/3fff51a0-0fdb-11e7-ab07-07d9f521f6b5_story.html?utm_term=.0e705137833d.

  3. Paul in Boston Says:

    Al-Sisi is a very brave man for saying in his 1/1/15 speech “Is it possible that 1.6 billion people (Muslims worldwide) should want to kill the rest of the world’s population—that is, 7 billion people—so that they themselves may live?” he asked. “Impossible.”. It calls into question a very fundamental doctrine of Islam as enunciated by the mullahs over many hndreds of years.

    The Muslim Brotherhood, for all intents and purposes, was the Arab wing of the Nazi party in the 1930s and 40s. Their great leader, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was wanted as a war criminal but managed to escape to Egypt after WWII. He was unanimously elected head of the MB on his return. They haven’t changed a bit since then.

    Egypt, which has been governed by Pharaohs, kings, and dictators for the last 5000 years is not going to become a Western style democracy anytime soon because the culture needed to support one just doesn’t exist. Maybe 100 years from now. Ditto for the rest of the Islamic world. It’s taken the English speaking people 800 years of cultural development to achive its current level of democratic government, so don’t hold your breath.

  4. n.n Says:

    Gaddafi was another moderate, national Muslim leader who had long ago reformed as a neighbor and servant of his people.

  5. Liz Says:

    The press and others have criticized Trump for calling Erdogan after their election. But, that was a diplomatic decision and the read out of the call mentions other topics in the call.

    https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/04/17/readout-president-donald-j-trumps-call-president-recep-tayyip-erdogan

    Trump will be meeting with Erdogan at the WH May 16th as well as Abbas of Palestine on May 3rd. It’s good that Trump is meeting these leaders – better now in a tentative “friendship” than on the battle field.

    An aside on the Russian issue – Obama laughed at Romney concerning Russia. Clinton gave them a reset button. Then there was that open mike comment of being more flexible after the elections. So, the impression was that Russia was good, the Cold War was over, and let’s work with them. So why wouldn’t businesses try to get something going in Russia.

    Now, the Ds want to declare that any contact with a Russian is proof that you are a treasonous spy.

  6. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    I agree that Sisi is the best we can expect but let’s not lose sight of the fact that if sincere, he’s in denial as to Islam’s inherent nature.

    Also, why has Sisi conducted harsh crackdowns on aid groups? That would seem to be counter-productive. Unless these aid groups are an Egyptian version of the groups that aid the Palestinians, in which case they are covertly aiding the Muslim Brotherhood…

    In the same vein if slightly off topic, why is ISIS attacking the French now? How is helping to elect Le Pen, the only candidate willing to actually fight them… to their advantage?

    Or, are they actually that stupid?

    “It calls into question a very fundamental doctrine of Islam as enunciated by the mullahs over many hundreds of years.” Paul in Boston

    The Imams and Mullahs are NOT inventing that ‘interpretation’. Both the Qur’an and Muhammad’s sayings strongly emphasize that very fundamental doctrine of Islam. And, not to quibble but that would be 1400 years. Sisi is straying very close to blasphemy.

    Give the Islamic world another 800 years and it won’t be enough. The English speaking world had a Greek/Roman/Judeo/Christian background from which the enlightenment could be birthed. None of that exists for the Islamic world and Islam’s tenets are antithetical to any such enlightenment emerging.

    Liz,

    Ignoring Erdogan’s founding of a Sunni version of Iran’s theocracy in order to enlist his aid in “holding Assad accountable” and fighting ISIS is IMO problematic at best. Tacit support for a dictator, as distasteful as that is, is one thing but Erdogan’s ambitions are far more troublesome than just another ‘strong man’. Erdogan disagrees with ISIS as to tactics but shares the same goals.

  7. parker Says:

    GB@3:28,

    Yes, SISI is as ‘good’ as it gets right now. And like you, I am skeptical islam can ever be reformed and learn to play well with others. Individual muslims can and do play well with others, but for islam as an institution to change in any meaningful way looks as close to impossible as it as it gets.

  8. Brian Swisher Says:

    I’ll just say that it’s refreshing that the Trump administration brought home someone who’s worth bringing home.

  9. csimon621 Says:

    Th utter irony of Obama’s actions and words seems to be lost. Perhaps hypocrisy is more apt? Obama maintained that all foreign diplomacy problems could and should be resolved by talking nicely to other leaders (especially if he was one doing talking).
    Then he barred Al Sisi from White House after coup – never mind the enormous unrest after Egyptian election because at least half of Egyptians didn’t want Muslim Brotherhood taking over their country (w/ good reason in my opinion but that’s hardly relevant) Needless to say he had not much reaction when member of Muslim Brotherhood was elected.
    Now I’m not an advocate of coups– military or otherwise (tho’ full disclosure: I was none to happy with the idea of Muslim Brotherhood running a Middle Eastern country as large as Egypt and with such close proximity to Israel).
    But after characterizing Al-Sisi as an evil despot and persona non grata to US, Obama & John Kerry spent most of his second term doing everything but handsprings & summersaults to get an accord with the Iranians — those honeys of state leaders. Secret meetings, secret agreements, and God Forbid Americans should learn any details, especially his forking over $2.5 billion literally in cash until it was done deal.
    (By the way, anyone else ever wonder if a little chunk of that $2.5 billion is waiting somewhere in Swiss bank a/c for Obama? Or maybe a huge overpayment for a speech he’ll surely be invited to deliver?

  10. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    csimon621,

    It never occured to me… but it should have. Of course any kickback will be handled in such a way that nothing can be done about it. Perhaps a $5 Million dollar fee per speech? With all expenses paid and accomodations suitable for the most important man… ever.

  11. Frog Says:

    It has been two years since Neo wrote, “heavy-handed tactics are required to deal with the Brotherhood in Egypt…”

    Are those necessary, heavy-handed tactics to be limited to Egypt?
    I am convinced similar heavy hands should be applied to Islam throughout the West. We must ban CAIR, Saudi (and others) funding of Islam in the US, and gradually move to declaring Islam a non-religion, or at worst a religion that is incompatible with the Constitution. Otherwise Islam will hoist us on our own petards.

    csimon621: I have commented here in the past that a mere 1% commission to Barack for the $160
    billion Iran deal would make him a billionaire. I believe Barack deems himself more worthy of wealth than the Clintons, and in one stroke likely surpassed them. Heh.
    Kerry, a patent money-grubber, got less but hey! $500 mill is OK too.

  12. Big Maq Says:

    “I believe that he’s correct to support al-Sisi in general, who is probably as good as it’s going to get in that region and is head and shoulders above so many others.” – Neo

    Agree.

    We hardly have the resources to “force” the rest of the world to follow our ideals, even if we thought that was a good idea.

    We are left with working with the countries and their leaders as they exist.

    We can and do exert significant influence to serve our interests, and working with al-Sisi is one such example.

    We can deal with them without having to endorse all that they stand for, and perhaps can use our resources to influence them towards our ideals, without banging them over the head for their human rights deficiencies.

    Far better than to isolate everyone we disagree with, as we (perhaps rightly) have KJU in North Korea, and leave them all to themselves to “work it out”.

    We have too much at stake to adopt isolationism.

    Glad trump “changed his mind” on that.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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