US & Canada

Trumplomacy: Bromance with an autocrat

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Media captionTrump says Egypt's Sisi 'very close to me'

When I was based in Egypt during the 1990s, we regularly got human rights reports about dreadful abuses in military prisons.

What particularly sticks in my mind, though, is a report on what happened in police stations: even people picked up for petty crimes were tortured.

Egypt's security state has always been ruthless, but in those days the brutality was more under the surface.

Which made the American alliance with Arab autocrats like Hosni Mubarak easier.

Egypt had, after all, stepped out on a limb to make peace with Israel.

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Image caption The US and Germany are still allies, but a level of comfort between their leaders is gone

It proved to be a reliable partner in guaranteeing that peace, for which it was paid $1.3bn (£1bn) a year in military aid. A pillar of regional stability.

It was not an easy balance to navigate, however, and under George W Bush the administration began to question the wisdom of seeking stability at the expense of democracy.

Barack Obama went further. He rolled with the revolutionary wave of the Arab Spring, then shunned the strongman, Army General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who took power in the debris of its aftermath.

That was largely because there were legal questions about whether the US could continue supporting a regime that seized power in a coup.

The White House never called the military takeover a coup, but it did freeze military aid for two years.

It was also because the brutality had risen to the surface: Sisi oversaw a vicious security operation that killed hundreds of protesters in the streets. He has since jailed tens of thousands of his opponents.

But he has also cracked down on Islamist terrorism, and that is the language the Trump administration speaks.

So President Sisi has been rehabilitated, validated by a visit to the White House.

Is this Washington reverting to the comfort zone of supporting Arab autocrats, in a time of great instability?

Yes, but it's more than that.

After the demonstration of mutual admiration yesterday, I think it's fair to say that President Trump feels comfortable with Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, The Autocrat.

More so than with Angela Merkel, The Democrat, says Tom Malinowski, a veteran diplomat responsible for the human rights file in the Obama administration.

That is new.


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