US presidential candidate Donald Trump said he has “high regard for peace-loving Muslims,” during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Monday night.
The presidential hopeful added, he “understands that every day there are people of goodwill that sacrifice their lives and fortunes to combat the growing threat of radical Islamic terrorism,” a press release from the Trump campaign reported.
Trump and Sisi met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, where Sisi also met with Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton the same evening.
Trump has been widely criticized for a number of controversial statements on Islam over the course of his campaign. He has repeatedly said that he wants to ban foreign Muslims from entering the US, that American Muslims should carry special identification cards and that the US should close down mosques as they are “hotbeds of terrorist activity.”
Trump praised Sisi and the Egyptian people for what “they have done for the betterment of the world,” during their Friday meeting. The presidential hopeful said that under his administration, Egypt and the US would be more than allies, they would be friends.
Unlike his fellow presidential candidate Clinton, Trump did not mention human rights during his talk with Sisi. Instead he focused on the shared bilateral concerns for security, emphasizing the strong role Egypt needs to play in counterterrorism operations.
Egypt has been criticized for its broad crackdown on human rights, including recent legal measures against local NGOs and human rights defenders. A court froze the assets of several prominent human rights activists and NGOs on Saturday, in what Amnesty International deemed “a shameless ploy to silence human rights activism.”
Human Rights Watch slammed Egypt’s human rights record in its annual report at the beginning of 2016, stating that the clamp down on security has led to various human rights violations, including forced disappearances, torture, travel bans and possible extra-judicial killings.
Trump told Sisi that he strongly supported his “war on terrorism” and stated he hoped that Egypt and the US would work together to eradicate “radical Islamic terrorism.”
Both Trump and Clinton have been criticized by American-based academics and rights activists for agreeing to meet with Sisi. A joint letter issued by several scholars and activists on Friday condemned both Egypt’s human rights record and both presidential candidates’ decisions to meet with him.
“Since taking power via a military coup three years ago, President Sisi has overseen not only the complete reversal of Egypt’s nascent democratic transition but also unprecedented human rights abuses. It is not in our interest to embrace him but to use our influence to press for beneficial change in Egypt,” the statement read, adding, “Your meeting with Sisi at the UNGA will be taken in Egypt, and around the world, as an endorsement.”