What do US politicians really think of Sisi?

Local newspapers on Sunday were full of news that US politicians had finally seen the light and showered praise upon President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, following the opening of the new Suez Canal passageway last week.


The articles drew on quotes from a Washington Post article, published after the GOP debate on August 6. 


However, they omitted to show the full scope of US statements regarding Sisi, or to examine US foreign policy more broadly in relation to Egypt, which tends to be divided along party lines, with the more conservative Republican party largely supporting the Egyptian president.


The more centrist Democratic party tends to frame the relationship between the US and Egypt in terms of national security, and major Democratic politicians often pepper their statements about Egypt with mention of human rights abuses.


Mada Masr looks at a selection of prominent US politicians from both the Republican and Democratic parties and what they’ve said about Egypt and President Sisi.


The Republicans


Ted Cruz


Ted Cruz is a Republican candidate in the Republican primaries for the upcoming presidential 2016 election. He was the one to most vociferously praise Sisi during the GOP debate on Thursday, saying, “We need a president that shows the courage [of] Egypt’s President al-Sisi, a Muslim, when he called out the radical Islamic terrorists who are threatening the world.”


This statement stands out in contrast to previous statements Cruz has made, such as when he referred to the military-led ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi as a “coup” and criticized President Barack Obama for resuming military aid to Egypt.


In August 2013 he said, “When a military coup occurred, it [the US government] failed to follow current US law and suspend aid to Egypt, something that could have been done to encourage the new government to move swiftly toward democratic reforms. Not illogically, the Egyptian military took this as permission to act with impunity against the Muslim Brotherhood, which in turn is provoking violence and committing savage crimes against Coptic Christians.”


Cruz was the first Republican to declare his candidacy for President. His primary appeal is with those on the far right of the Republican party, including Christian conservatives, libertarians and Tea Party supporters. His strategy tends to be oppositional to that of mainstream Republican candidates


Responses from the American media to Senator Cruz’s remarks about Sisi were mixed, with a staff writer in the Atlantic saying, “Ted Cruz is praising Egyptian President Sisi, which is a pretty bold move — given that Sisi is an autocratic leader who has consistently pushed back on the religious freedom Cruz treasures so dearly stateside.”


Political analyst Josh Rogin tweeted, “Cruz praises Egyptian President al-Sisi, a guy who hates terrorism so much he imprisons all opposition just as a precaution.”


John McCain


Although the majority of politicians expressing support for Sisi tend to be Republicans, former presidential candidate and Senator John McCain has repeatedly expressed his disapproval for the US support of the Egyptian military.     


He spoke out in the aftermath of Morsi’s ouster, saying, “It was a coup and it was the second time in two-and-a-half years that we have seen the military step in. It’s a strong indicator of the lack of American leadership and influence since we’ve urged the military not to do that.”


McCain called on the US to suspend aid to Egypt at the time and later urged Secretary of State John Kerry to use US aid to pressure Egypt to improve its human rights and civil society policies, while on his visit in August 2015.


Jeb Bush


Jeb Bush expressed his admiration of Sisi in February 2015, when he said he was very impressed with a speech the Egyptian president gave at Al-Azhar University denouncing Islamic extremism.


The presidential hopeful said, “He [Sisi] gave this incredible speech about Muslim extremism, saying it’s the responsibility of the Arab world to step up to fight this; that the first risks are for countries like Egypt.”


Jeb Bush is a prominent candidate in the Republican primaries, and has raised the most money for his campaign. He is often considered the Republican establishment’s first choice for presidential candidate. He is the brother of former President George W. Bush and the son of former President George Bush.


John Boehner


Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has always been supportive of the Egyptian military. Following Morsi’s ouster, he said, “I think their military, on behalf of the citizens did what they had to do in terms of replacing the elected president.”


Boehner has been criticized by members of his own party for using congressional power to raise money, rather than focusing on policy issues.


The Democrats


Hillary Clinton


Senator Hilary Clinton wrote in her book Hard Choices that Sisi “appears to be following the classic mold of Middle Eastern strongmen.”


She maintained her attitude towards Egypt is guided by “realism,” stating that “America will always do what it takes to keep our people safe and advance our core interests … Sometimes that means working with partners with whom we have deep disagreements.”


While Clinton appears to be open to working with Egypt, her rhetoric focuses on US security concerns and she shows no confidence in Sisi as a leader, nor does she seem to see the current government as sustainable. She declared in her book, “There is little reason to believe that restored military rule will be any more sustainable than it was under Mubarak.”


Clinton is the frontrunner among the democratic candidates for US President, she previously served as Secretary of State under Obama’s first term in office. She has been criticized for being too close to big businesses and corporations. 


John Kerry


Secretary of State John Kerry has followed Clinton’s example of emphasizing Egypt’s regional importance for US security, while at the same time criticizing the country’s record on human rights.


During his recent visit to Egypt, Kerry stated, “The success of our fight against terrorism depends on building trust between the authorities and the public. If that possibility does not exist, then, regrettably, more misguided people will be driven to violence and there will be more attacks.”


Ahead of Kerry’s visit, a bi-partisan group of senators, including John McCain and Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rublio, called on him to make human rights a central issue in his meetings with Egyptian officials.


In the letter, the senators wrote that they were troubled by “recent developments in Egypt,” adding, “We are also concerned that recent US policy and assistance decisions have been interpreted by the Egyptian government as endorsement of the current political climate.” 


Barack Obama


President Barack Obama, along with Kerry and Clinton, has tended to take a practical approach towards US policy in Egypt. He agreed to release military aid to Egypt in 2015 due to US national security interests.


Obama has also called for the release of the Al Jazeera journalists and directly criticized Sisi for his human rights record. He temporarily froze military aid to Egypt in 2013 following Morsi’s ouster, as American regulations prohibit the sending of aid to an unelected government.


However, a new waiver was added to the regulations that allows this stipulation to be bypassed in the interest of US national security. US military aid to Egypt resumed in April 2015.


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