Despite widespread calls for President Biden to use the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit to pressure Egypt’s Sisi on human rights, the last day of the summit instead featured a warm embrace between the two leaders and a notable lack of public criticism.
Al-Sisi had already met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and was the only African leader at the summit to make an official visit to the Pentagon. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that the Biden administration “greatly appreciates Egypt’s leadership and cooperation in achieving our shared security objectives.”
Egypt’s Sisi held more mutually adulatory meetings with the Congressional Friends of Egypt Caucus, leaders of American Jewish organizations, and U.S. business representatives. He also addressed the summit to discuss food security, water security, and foreign debt in Africa.
“Serious question: Is there no one in the [administration] talking to [Biden] about the optics of embracing and laughing with authoritarian leaders?” asked the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy’s Mai El-Sadany in reference to the president’s amiable handshakes with al-Sisi and Tunisian President Kais Saied.
“The photos entirely undo the impact of any firmer language by the Department of State on democracy and justice,” she added.
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), on December 15, 2022, tweeted saying: “As leaders gather in D.C. for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the U.S. must call out human rights abuses wherever and whenever they occur—including from key security partners, like Egypt. Sisi must release all of Egypt’s political prisoners.”
Advocates said the US president emboldened the Egyptian leader during last month’s COP27, and he has done so again in Washington recently.
Yasmin Omar tweeted, saying: “It seems that lies and manipulation are what President Biden needed to give blank checks to dictators like El Sisi of Egypt ! 1000s of political detainees are still suffering in inhumane prisons including Alaa Abdel Fattah and Ahmed Douma , the US Administration must realize how this impacts those victims!
President Biden is committed to a foreign policy that unites our democratic values with our diplomatic leadership, and one that is centered on the defense of democracy and the protection of human rights.
Despite the cozy optics of a Biden-Sisi meeting on the sidelines of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, Egypt’s record, especially on corruption and oppression belies true leadership.
“There is no stability through repression … There is no stability by coordinating with dictators… The US has to end this blank check for President Sisi & the region’s other dictators before the people can begin to build a better future.” Says Rami Shaath, an Egyptian/Palestinian human rights activist.