President Donald Trump has a strange fondness for despotic world leaders. The U.S. commander-in-chief has made headlines for his controversial admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his bizarre appreciation for former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
His administration has also made clear that when it comes to foreign policy, human rights are no longer a priority.
Unfortunately, it makes perfect sense, considering much of Trump’s young presidency has been about detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants, taking away health care away from the poor and lower-income Americans and banning people from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.
The president’s disregard for human rights violations could not have been clearer than when he hosted Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a dictator who overthrew his country’s democratic government in a military coup, in the White House.
It was a first for Sisi who, despite coming to power in 2013, had not been invited to the Washington, D.C., until now as former President Barack Obama refused to meet him over concerns about extrajudicial killings, mass detentions, torture, and mysterious disappearances of journalists, aid workers, activists, students and scholars in Egypt.
However, Trump could not care less.
Nearly two weeks after refusing to shake hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the leader who opened her country’s borders for refugees fleeing war and persecution in their homelands, Trump sat in front of reporters lavishing praises on Sisi, the man credited with the horrific Rabaa massacre where Egyptian security forces killed more than 800 protesters in a single day.
“I just want to let everybody know in case there was any doubt that we are very much behind President Sisi,” Trump told the press. “He’s done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation. We are very much behind Egypt and the people of Egypt.”
If killing civilians, torturing reporters and incarcerating activists — including at least seven Americans — while making things worse for your own country is considered doing a “fantastic job,” then Sisi has undoubtedly surpassed expectations.
“Enforced disappearance has become a key instrument of state policy in Egypt. Anyone who dares to speak out is at risk, with counter-terrorism being used as an excuse to abduct, interrogate and torture people who challenge the authorities,” Amnesty International stated in a 2016 report. “One of the most shocking cases examples is that of Mazen Mohamed Abdallah, who was subjected to enforced disappearance at the age of 14 in September 2015 and suffered horrendous abuse including being repeatedly raped with a wooden stick in order to extract a false ‘confession.’”
Human rights groups believe the country has detained at least 40,000 dissidents since Sisi became the president.
Egypt might be a vital Muslim-majority U.S. ally in the Middle East, but that does not mean it is exempt from accountability — particularly when it comes to the human rights atrocities Sisi’s security forces are carrying out against its own people.
Moreover, Sisi’s autocratic counterterrorism tactics may not even be working, as the country has witnessed an increase in terrorism related activity and Islamic State militants have managed to establish a stronghold in the Sinai Peninsula.