Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi received a warm reception from U.S. President Donald Trump during his visit to Washington this week, but a much colder one from Congress, Foreign Policy reports.
Four top lawmakers, two Democrats and two Republicans sent a letter directly to Sisi on Monday ahead of his visit to the White House, highlighting concerns over human rights issues and Egypt’s failure to adhere to requirements for its U.S. security assistance.
The letter, obtained by Foreign Policy, criticizes Sisi’s crackdown against political dissent even as Trump embraces him as an ally on countering terrorism and facing down Iran.
Lawmakers often send letters on human rights and other foreign-policy issues to the U.S. president or administration officials, but it is unusual for them to directly correspond with a foreign leader, FP notes.
The letter, quoting a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report, said Egypt “failed ‘to provide regular access for U.S. officials to monitor such assistance in areas where the assistance is used’.” The lawmakers urged Sisi to allow U.S. diplomats to visit the Sinai Peninsula and track how Egypt is using U.S. military aid.
Though the letter struck a diplomatic and legalistic tone, one former U.S. official who worked on Middle East issues said it signaled that Egypt’s $1.3 billion in U.S. security assistance could be in jeopardy if it didn’t start complying with the requirements. It did not explicitly mention cutting off any funding or support.
“This letter tells Sisi that there are significant pockets of Washington that don’t think the [security assistance] deal is working,” the former official said.
It “strikes at the one issue that Sisi cares about: the [military] bilateral relationship,” the former official said. “Sisi doesn’t care if people think he’s a dictator. What he cares about is access to U.S. weapons and the stamp of approval from [the White House and] Congress.”
The letter was signed by Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Michael McCaul (R-Texas) – the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), the chairman and ranking member respectively of the subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism.