Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) had some sharp words for Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, sending a message to President Sisi saying: “if you continue to abuse your population, there will be government instability and that breeds radicals.” This echoes a frequent claim made by Senator Rubio in relation to Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria: that the existence of Syrian jihadists is directly linked to the regime’s dictatorial nature. Although the U.S. defense establishment has been split on the issue of Sisi’s regime, Rubio has emerged as a strong critic, previously panning it for human rights abuses. His position presents a clear contradiction with that of President Donald Trump, who has sought to improve ties with Egypt, stating that “we are very much behind Egypt” and that Sisi had done a “fantastic job” after their meeting at the White House earlier this month. Before Trump was elected, Sisi told CNN that he had “no doubt” Trump would make a strong leader.
The Trump administration made clear on Friday that it intends to shift away from the previous two administrations’ stances on human rights in the Middle East, in order to prioritize the U.S. national interest by focusing on counterterrorism efforts in the region. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated that the United States understands the “political reality” of the situation in Syria. This corroborates earlier statements on Thursday by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the “longer term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people” and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley that “our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”