Trump praises Sisi as critics reiterate concern for human rights

Trump embraces Sisi despite concerns among US politicians, rights groups about human rights abuses in Egypt.

    US President Donald Trump, welcomed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to the White House on Tuesday, saying a lot of progress had been made with Egypt in terms of "terrorism".

    Trump, with Sisi at his side, also told reporters that the two had important things to discuss military issues and trade.

    "I think he is doing a great job," Trump said as he sat down for talks with Sisi in the White House. "We have never had a better relationship between Egypt and United States than we do right now."

    The United States government and US politicians are particularly concerned about Egypt's reported signing of a two-billion-dollar deal with Russia to buy more than 20 Sukhoi SU-35 fighter jets as well as weapons for the aircraft.

    Trump warmly embraced Sisi despite concerns among US politicians and rights advocates over human rights violations.

    Rights groups accuse Egypt of instituting a widespread crackdown on dissent, including the torture of political prisoners - allegations the Egyptian government has denied.

    In a letter released on Monday, key senators told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo there was strong support for the security relationship with Egypt but urged him to convey their concerns about democratic governance, political freedom, economic reforms and fundamental human rights in the country.

    "A strong and sustainable US-Egypt strategic partnership is vital for both countries but it requires Egypt to make a tangible effort to make those reforms," said the letter, signed by the Republican chairman and the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as well as 15 other senators. 

    "Maduro is a tyrant, Kim Jong Un is a tyrant. Sisi changed the constitution, locking up thousands of political opponents and dissidents to try to stay in power, holding journalists and others and he is not a tyrant?" Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy asked Secretary of State Pompeo at a Capitol Hill hearing on Tuesday.

    Pompeo responded by saying, "we have not been remotely bashful" about calling out Egypt's leader for human rights violations.

    He added that he was "deeply appreciative" of the Egyptian government's cooperation with the US.

    Pompeo said he raised concerns about US citizens who have been held in Egypt with Sisi in their meeting on Monday. 

    "I met with him yesterday. We talked about these very things, asking him to do better," Pompeo said.

    Constitutional amendments

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    Later this month, Egyptians are expected to take part in a referendum to vote on constitutional amendments that could see Sisi extend his rule beyond the end of his second term in 2022.

    The amendments would also increase the military's political role and bring the judiciary under Sisi's control.

    In the run-up to Sisi's meeting with Trump, Human Rights Watch urged Congress to condemn the amendments, saying the changes could "institutionalise authoritarianism".

    "President el-Sisi is in Washington to obtain a green light for proposed constitutional amendments that grant the military highly abusive powers and further institutionalise authoritarianism," said Michael Page, HRW's deputy Middle East and Northern Africa director.

    "Given President Trump's silence on abuses, Congress should step up and condemn this initiative," Page added in a statement. 

    With additional reporting from William Roberts in Washington, DC. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies