In his foreign policy speech on Monday, Donald Trump stated that he would “amplify the voice” of moderate Muslim reformers in the Middle East, saying, “Our Administration will be a friend to all moderate Muslim reformers in the Middle East, and will amplify their voices.”
He also said that he would work with Egypt, Jordan and Israel in combating radical Islam, saying, “As President, I will call for an international conference focused on this goal. We will work side-by-side with our friends in the Middle East, including our greatest ally, Israel. We will partner with King Abdullah of Jordan, and President Sisi of Egypt, and all others who recognize this ideology of death that must be extinguished.”
He said that, as President, he would establish a “Commission on Radical Islam,” saying, “That is why one of my first acts as President will be to establish a Commission on Radical Islam – which will include reformist voices in the Muslim community who will hopefully work with us. We want to build bridges and erase divisions.”
His comments about cooperating with Egypt, Israel and Jordan were highlighted in the Arab world’s media, with headlines reading “Donald Trump Announces Plan to Cooperate with Egypt, Jordan, Israel to Combat Radical Islam” and “Trump vows to work with Egypt’s Sisi to ‘stop radical Islam’ if elected.”
Under the Obama Administration, US policy has not been friendly towards our Muslim allies such as Egypt. Hillary Clinton recently said in a primary debate with Bernie Sanders that, in Egypt, you basically have an “army dictatorship”.
Egypt is one of the most catastrophic foreign policy failures of the Obama Administration and Hillary Clinton’s State Department. President Obama started his outreach to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood when he delivered his 2009 Cairo speech. The US Embassy invited 10 members of the Muslim Brotherhood to attend the speech, undermining US ally Mubarak – who had rejected to previous U.S. efforts to reach out to the Brotherhood.
The Obama Administration, and Clinton’s State Department, again undermined President Mubarak in 2011 when they urged him to step down and pressured Egypt to hold elections “immediately” after the 2011 revolution. This policy favored the Muslim Brotherhood to win elections since they were the most organized at the time.
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi in Cairo offering “strong support” for the Islamist President, saying, “I have come to Cairo to reaffirm the strong support of the United States for the Egyptian people and their democratic transition… We want to be a good partner and we want to support the democracy that has been achieved by the courage and sacrifice of the Egyptian people.”
The Obama Administration embraced the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, but when millions of Egyptians took to the streets one year later, calling for early elections against the Muslim Brotherhood government, the Obama Administration did all they could to undermine their efforts.
Over 30 million Egyptians took to the streets on June 30, 2013 calling for the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power. After one year of being in power, the Brotherhood was taking Egypt towards an Iranian theocracy and the Egyptian people stood against political Islam. The 2011 Egyptian Constitution had no impeachment mechanism included, so the only democratic way to remove the Brotherhood was signing a petition and taking to the streets in the masses. Millions of Egyptians took to the streets again in July, supporting then Defense Minister General el-Sisi and the Egyptian military in their efforts to fight terrorism.
The Obama Administration condemned the Egyptian military and police after the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood and punished Egypt by freezing military and economic aid to Egypt. This was done while the Egyptian military had launched a major offensive to “crush terrorist activity” in the Sinai that had built up during the Muslim Brotherhood government. Egypt had to fight terrorism alone – not only without support from the US – but with pressure to succumb to the requests from the US Administration to release the Muslim Brotherhood members from prison and reconcile.
The pressure from the Obama Administration against the removal of the Morsi regime emboldened the Muslim Brotherhood and they waged an Islamist insurgency, not only in the Sinai but on the streets of Cairo. The Muslim Brotherhood specifically targeted the Christian community and burned down over 65 Christian Churches and hundreds of Christian shops.
The Obama Administration sent U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns to Egypt for “U.S. mediation efforts” and met with Khairat el-Shater, the deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who was in jail at the time and sentenced for life in prison. Our State Department, under John Kerry, sent a representative to Egypt pressuring the Egyptian government to release terrorists from jail.
The Obama Administration also sent Senators McCain and Graham to Egypt to ask the Egyptian government and military to find an agreement with the Muslim Brotherhood. They asked the Egyptian government to “sit down and talk” to the Muslim Brotherhood, who had waged war on the Egyptian people.
Since being democratically elected in 2014, winning with 97% of the vote, Egyptian President al-Sisi has made history speaking out for equality between Muslims and Christians. He was the first President in Egyptian history to visit the Coptic Christian Christmas mass service in January 2015. During his speech at the Christmas mass, he emphasized the need to look at each other as “Egyptians” and not as Muslim or Christian. He said, “We will love each other for real, so that people may see.” President Sisi again visited the Coptic Christmas mass in January 2016 where he vowed to rebuild the Christian churches that were destroyed by Islamists in 2013 after the Muslim Brotherhood were removed from power.
President Sisi has called for “Islamic reform” within Islam numerous times. During a speech to Islamic scholars in 2015, marking the anniversary of Muhammad’s birth, President Sisi urged reform of Islamic discourse and called on Islamic scholars to send Christmas greetings to Christians. In the televised speech to Islamic scholars, President Sisi stated, “We talk a lot about the importance of religious discourse… In our schools, institutes and universities, do we teach and practice respect for the others? We neither teach or practice it.”
The Egyptian government has also addressed the ideology by banning thousands of radical clerics from preaching in the mosques that are not licensed.
Recently, the government of President al-Sisi introduced a textbook for Egyptian public schools that requires Egyptian pupils to memorize the provisions of the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty and delineate the “advantages of peace for Egypt and the Arab states”. This is a major reform taken from the Egyptian government in normalizing and strengthening relations between Israel and Egypt.
President Sisi should be considered a key ally of America as he is leading Egypt towards democracy and also is leading the fight against global jihad, both militarily and politically, in countering radical Islamic ideology. Instead, he has yet to be invited to the United States from President Obama.
Hillary Clinton has been critical of Trump’s position towards Russia, but policies implemented under the Obama Administration have pushed Egypt towards Russia and have alienated our strongest Arab ally for over 40 years. Egypt and Russia signed a $2billion arms deal after the United States abandoned them during their fight against terrorism. Russia also is providing Egypt with $25 billion to build Egypt’s first nuclear power plant.
Donald Trump in his speech recognized the need to support our Muslim allies in the global war on terrorism. This is critical in defeating global jihad. We cannot afford another four years of a policy of alienating our allies and emboldening our enemies as we have seen under the Obama Administration.
Tera Dahl is Executive Director of the Council on Global Security.