Key Points

In the long-term, the stability of Egypt as well as the strength of the U.S.-Egyptian partnership depend on Cairo improving on this score. Progress has been slow. The U.S. decision to re-join Bright Star, in addition to its obvious military implications, should be viewed as a diplomatic tool to push Cairo in the right direction.

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Egypt thus plays a crucial role in preventing a conflict – one that Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has warned will be very painful for both sides. Should that next conflict erupt, Hamas has now been warned: It could lead to the beginning of a very different long-term agreement, one where Hamas no longer controls the Gaza Strip, and with Egypt and Israel cooperating closely with the terror group’s successor.

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With the election of President Donald Trump, al-Sisi hoped for better relations with Washington to maintain stability and address the country’s economic challenges. Clearly this has not yet materialized. On the one hand, visible warming of ties with a geopolitical rival of the United States is a game that Egypt is well versed in. The Trump Administration should proceed carefully and unemotionally.

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The president was right to affirm Egypt’s role as a strategic partner in light of shared commitments to fighting terrorism, yet Trump should consistently urge Sisi to protect human rights for all Egyptians and let citizens exercise their democratic rights in a constitutional framework. These are not only core values and rights, but they are critical to stability and prosperity in the Arab world’s most populous nation. The U.S. should also insist on the importance of respecting term limits, in light of plans for a constitutional amendment to extend Sisi’s rule beyond the current eight years now permitted.

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Tillerson also said that the U.S. “supports a transparent and credible electoral process,” reflecting Washington’s nagging concerns about a democracy deficit in Egypt. But even amidst this tension, the U.S. can be expected to back the campaign against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups that threaten security and stability in Egypt and the entire region.

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Projects