Sisi Is No Partner For the United States

Embracing Egypt's Leader Will Backfire

U.S. President Donald Trump and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Washington, April 2017. Kevin Lamarque / REUTERS

On April 9, suicide bombers attacked Coptic churches in the Egyptian cities of Tanta and Alexandria, killing more than 40 people at Palm Sunday services. As devastating as the attack was, it should not have come as a surprise. The Islamic State (also called ISIS), which claimed responsibility, had previously vowed to increase its attacks on Egyptian Christians. And over the past several years, attacks on Christian churches, security forces, and tourists have been on the rise.

Sunday’s bombings came a few days after Egypt’s general-turned-president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, returned from his first visit to the White House to triumphant fanfare from the Egyptian media. Sisi has attempted to justify his harsh rule by presenting himself as a visionary strongman uniquely capable of bringing stability and prosperity back to Egypt following the turmoil of the Arab Spring. But the Palm Sunday attacks reveal both how hollow these promises are, as well the limits of Sisi as a U.S. ally.

Aside from questions about the morality of embracing the most repressive leader in Egypt’s modern history, Sisi is not the strongman-savior he presents himself to be. An extremely polarizing figure at home, the president relies on extreme repression and fantasies about economic miracles to stay in power. Meanwhile, Sisi uses the specter of terrorism as an excuse to marginalize opponents and potential critics of the cronyistic military regime he leads. Although Sisi may cooperate with the West to maintain the status quo in the short-term, he is not a reliable partner for bringing stability to Egypt or the region.

At a polling station in Imbaba, Egypt, October 2015.
At a polling station in Imbaba, Egypt, October 2015. Mohamed Abd El Ghany / REUTERS


At home, Sisi has cast himself as a new Gamal Abdel Nasser, a political powerhouse who can restore national pride and bring security and economic prosperity to Egypt. In attempting to promote Sisi’s first visit to the White House, pro-government Egyptian media outlets presented an alternate universe in which he was celebrated by a fawning Western media.

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