Mike Pence starts Middle East tour amid Jerusalem anger

US vice president arrives in Egypt with shortened schedule after Palestinian president and others promise to snub visit.

US Vice President Mike Pence has arrived in Egypt for the first leg of a Middle East tour marred by continuing anger over the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last month.

Pence, who landed in Cairo on Saturday, is the most senior US politician to visit the region since US President Donald Trump announced on December 6 that Washington would move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Mike Pence in the Middle East on a three-day trip

The US vice president met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo’s presidential palace, where the pair discussed bilateral ties between the two countries.

They also spoke about ways to eliminate what Sisi called the “disease and cancer” of terrorism.

After Egypt, Pence is due to visit Jordan and Israel, where he is expected to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and address the Knesset.

His trip was initially scheduled to take place in December but was delayed apparently so that Pence could oversee a US congressional vote on tax reform, in which he could potentially have had to cast a deciding vote.

Jordan’s King Abdullah is also due to meet Pence, but other senior Arab figures have made clear they do not wish to meet him.

Trump’s decision sparked anger across Palestine and the wider Arab and Muslim world and earned the US angry rebuke from the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who vowed not to receive Pence in the Palestinian territories. 

Mahdi Abdel Hadi, a Palestinian political analyst, said the Palestinians were sending the Trump administration a “clear message”.

“You cannot meet people when they insult you and humiliate you, when they ignore you and side with your enemy,” said Abdel Hadi.

“[Palestinians] have to pass a clear message that we are angry, this cannot continue and it would be hypocrisy if we meet you.”

Muslim and Coptic Christian leaders in Egypt, have similarly vowed not to meet the US vice president.

In December, a statement by the Coptic Orthodox church on behalf of Pope Tawadros II, said Trump’s decision ignored the “feelings of millions of Arab people”.

The imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque also said at the time that he would not meet Pence.

“How can I sit with those who granted what they do not own to those who do not deserve it?” said Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb.

Source: Al Jazeera