WASHINGTON – For the second time in less than a year, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi hosted this week a delegation of leading evangelical Christians from the United States.
While the first such meeting between Sissi and evangelical leaders took place last fall in Cairo, this time he met with them in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session. The meetings show a growing effort on behalf of Egypt to forge ties with an influential religious group in the U.S., known for its overwhelming support of President Donald Trump.
Among the issues that were discussed in this week’s 90 minute-long meeting was the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Egypt’s attempts to create a lasting ceasefire in Gaza. Sissi said that Egypt is committed to supporting peace efforts in the region. During his speech before the UN, which took place before the meeting, he stated that while the parameters for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were known, but "what is required is political will to resume negotiations and achieve a settlement in accordance with these parameters."
Sissi, a military general, rose to power in Egypt in 2013 as part of a military and political rebellion against the previous government, which was led by the Muslim Brotherhood. Since taking power, he has jailed the previous president, Mohammad Morsi, and many other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as opposition and human rights activists. He has faced growing criticism in the United States for some of those actions, and his relationship with the Obama administration was tense. Ever since Trump entered the White House, however, Egypt has been hailed by his administration as a partner in the Middle East.
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The Trump administration has specifically thanked Egypt recently for its attempts to stop another war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Egypt has taken a leading role in trying to create a lasting cease-fire between the two sides. The man at the heart of that effort, Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, participated in Sissi’s meeting with the evangelical leaders in New York this week.
The meeting took place immediately before Sissi met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The evangelical leaders praised Sissi for making his meeting with Netanyahu public, including the distribution of photographs of the two leaders together. They also praised Egypt for its commitment to fighting ISIS and other extremist terror groups, both in the Sinai Peninsula and along Egypt’s border with Libya.
One of the participants in the meeting was Mike Evans, a Zionist Christian activist and author who is a member of an evangelical advisory board that advises the Trump White House. Evans told Sissi: “Fighting terrorism is a human right. You liberated Egypt from the tyranny of the Muslim Brotherhood. You’re making Egypt safer and more prosperous for everyone, and we applaud you for it.”
Joel Rosenberg, an evangelical author who lives in Jerusalem and organized the previous meeting between Sissi and the Evangelical leaders, told Sissi during this week’s meeting, praised Sissi for supporting the Christian community in Egypt, and also for “doing everything possible to improve conditions in Gaza and jump-start the stalled peace process.” Another participant in the meeting was former Congresswoman Michelle Bachman (R-MN).
Evangelicals are estimated to constitute close to a quarter of the total U.S. population. In the 2016 election, they were the voting bloc that was most clearly supportive of Trump. According to recent polling, the vast majority of evangelical Christians remain supportive of the president today. Evangelical leaders and groups played an important role in pushing for the Trump administration’s decision last year to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Rosenberg told Haaretz after the meeting with Sissi that the Egyptian leader, like other world leaders, is looking for ways to build deep relationships with American society, even at a time when he seems to enjoy a close working relationship with the Trump White House. “If you want to have support in Congress, you need to reach out to the American people, and that’s part of what President Sissi is doing by holding these meetings with Evangelical leaders,” Rosenberg said. He added that evangelical leaders “don’t think Egypt is perfect or that President Sissi is perfect, but we appreciate his efforts to fight terrorism and his commitment to promoting peace and stability.”