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.
Although the dictatorship in Egypt has been an ally of the United States since the days of Anwar Sadat, relations became strained after the 2013 military coup which resulted in Sisi’s rise to power. This in turn led to a new alliance being formed between Sisi’s Egypt and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
One result of this alliance has been a newfound Egyptian support for the controversial Syrian regime, as well as a growing confluence of strategic interests with Iran, which has consequently soured relations between Egypt and its former close ally, Saudi Arabia, an initial supporter of the 2013 coup. Other U.S. allies in the region, such as Turkey and Qatar, both of which opposed the coup, continue to have a poor relationship with the Sisi regime, backing the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist opposition networks in Egypt.
Egypt continues to fight active radical Islamic insurgencies in urban areas and the Sinai peninsula, and President Sisi is said to be close to the country’s substantial Christian minority. It remains to be seen whether these small-scale conflicts will develop further, and if so, what attitude Washington’s neoconservatives will choose to take on the future of Sisi’s regime. If Sisi continues to expand his military ties to Russia, he may well emerge as the next target on the list.