US President Donald Trump (right) greets Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi Monday evening in New York City on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s opening session. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Trump’s Praise for Sisi Could Further Provoke Protesters

Activists in Egypt call for mass rally on Friday to protest strongman’s alleged corruption

US President Donald Trump called his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, “a real leader” despite anti-government protests in Cairo and other cities around Egypt.

The two met on Monday evening in New York City on the sidelines of the opening session of the 74th United Nations General Assembly.

“I think everyone has demonstrations and protests,” President Trump said. “Even with former president Barack Obama, there were demonstrations and protests during his time.”

The US leader added that Sisi was a “respectable, great leader. Before he came to power in Egypt,” he said, “there was chaos.”

Protests that broke out last Friday and Saturday night in numerous locations around Egypt accused Sisi and the highest echelons of the country’s military of corruption. In response, Sisi accused forces of “political Islam” of trying to destabilize the country.

“The Egyptian people didn’t and will not accept the rule of political Islam,” he stated.

In 2013, Sisi, at the time commander in chief of the Egyptian army, led the overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s first democratically elected leader. Sisi then passed legislation banning the group and outlawing all outdoor protests.

An Egyptian activist who opposes Sisi and spoke to The Media Line on condition of anonymity said that “there are more than 500 people being detained by the security forces because of their participation in the recent popular movement in Cairo.”

He was referring to the demonstrations that began last weekend following online calls to action by Mohamed Ali, a self-exiled businessman who insists that corruption is rampant among Sisi and his cronies,

The weekend demonstrators “were accused of inciting riots and protesting without permission. Those charges violate the Egyptian constitution, which gives citizens the right to demonstrate and strike freely,” the anti-Sisi activist said, adding that President Trump’s “overstated” praise for his Egyptian counterpart could further provoke anti-Sisi sentiment in the street.

“The American administration turns a blind eye to the suppression of political action in Egypt. It doesn’t care about the interests of the Egyptian people,” he explained. “We have more than 40,000 political prisoners in Egypt. Has American democracy demanded their freedom?”

Ali, the businessman now based in Spain, is calling for a million Egyptians to take to the streets this Friday.

“He is urging Egyptians to protest against corruption to achieve freedom,” said the anti-Sisi activist, adding that it wasn’t the president the protesters were after.

“We are not demanding Sisi’s departure. We are demanding reforms and a better political environment to exercise our freedoms,” he explained.

Thousands of social networking sites have circulated videos showing last weekend’s protests. Some Sisi supporters say the videos were manipulated by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies to destabilize security.

Ayman Abd Al Majeed, an Egyptian political analyst and editor-in-chief of the Rosaelyousef newspaper in Cairo, told The Media Line that there was “a huge exaggeration” regarding reports of calls for more and larger demonstrations.

“The Muslim Brotherhood’s electronic militias, and the media opposing Cairo headed by Al Jazeera, are trying to disrupt security in Egypt and stop development efforts,” he asserted, adding that “there have been more than 20 new cities built in Egypt benefiting all social categories.”

Al Majeed said the meeting between Trump and Sisi had not been called due to the situation in Egypt.

“Sisi participates in all of the UN meetings. He met with President Trump last year as well,” he said.

“There is coordination between Cairo and Washington,” Al Majeed noted. “This [most recent] meeting comes within the framework of continuing efforts aimed at strengthening relations between the two countries.”

He noted that Cairo maintains close ties with Russia, China and other key countries as well.

“Sisi discussed with Trump ways to strengthen the partnership and bring peace and stability to the region, as well as economic promotion,” Al Majeed said. “The Egyptian people trust their elected president and praise Egyptian policy, which is to maintain open doors with key countries.”

Nizar Makhani, a Tunisian political analyst, told The Media Line that Sisi’s “military rule with an iron fist against his people” had caused Egyptians to regroup according to status and orientation.

“One group defends Sisi and his rule, while a second group represents the middle class, which seeks reforms within the country without overthrowing the president, concerned that his departure might bring instability,” Makhani said.

A third group, he said, “rejects the Egyptian regime as a whole. The majority of this group comes from the Muslim Brotherhood and also includes communists, nationalists and liberals who directly express their rejection of Sisi and his military control in Egypt.”

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