Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met US presidential adviser Jared Kushner after the United States decided to withhold millions of dollars in aid.
Two US sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday Washington decided to deny Egypt $95.7 million in aid and to delay a further $195 million because it failed to make progress on respecting human rights and democracy.
Kushner’s visit, part of a wider Middle East trip, was scheduled before the US aid decision was announced and was billed as an opportunity to discuss the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
Kushner, son-in-law of US President Donald Trump and one of his close advisers, met Sisi with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry present, Sisi’s office said in a statement.
He later had a separate meeting with Shoukry, the foreign ministry said.
Neither the presidency nor the foreign ministry mentioned the aid issue in statements released after the meetings, though the foreign ministry earlier criticised the decision, saying it would have an impact on achieving common goals.
“Egypt sees this measure as reflecting poor judgement of the strategic relationship that ties the two countries over decades and as adopting a view that lacks an accurate understanding of the importance of supporting Egypt’s stability,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
The decision could have “negative implications” on achieving common goals and interests between the two countries, it added.
Shortly after this foreign ministry statement, a one-on-one meeting between Shoukry and Kushner was removed from the schedule. But the two men later met separately after the joint meeting involving Sisi.
KEY REGIONAL PARTNER
Egypt is an important regional partner for the United States because of its control of the Suez Canal and its border with Israel. It receives $1.3 billion in aid annually.
The decision to withhold some aid reflects a US desire to continue security co-operation as well as frustration with Cairo’s stance on civil liberties.
In particular, a new law regulating non-governmental organisations is widely seen as part a growing crackdown on dissent, said the US sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Egyptian rights activists say they face the worst crackdown in their history under Sisi, accusing him of erasing freedoms won in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
Egyptian lawmakers said the NGO law is needed to protect national security. The Egyptian government has long accused human rights groups of taking foreign funds to sow chaos and several are facing investigation over funding.
The decision does not mean relations between Sisi and Trump, who have repeatedly spoken warmly about each other, are changing, analysts say.
“I think rather than see this as a sign of a change in the positive relationship between Sisi and Trump, it’s more of a sign of the dysfunction in Washington and the Trump administration,” said H.A. Hellyer, senior non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council.
“If anyone thinks this means more pressure on Cairo with regards to human rights, I think they are sorely mistaken – rather, the conclusion we ought to be drawing is the Trump administration continues to make unpredictable and inconsistent decisions due to internal dysfunction. One could even call it ‘palace politics’,” he said.