Sisi supporters turn on Trump over Muslim ban

Politicians and media figures who supported Trump against Clinton have called the seven-country ban racist and likely to increase terrorism

Donald Trump and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi meet in New York in September 2016 (AFP)

Egyptian politicians and pro-government media have condemned Donald Trump’s controversial ban against Muslims travelling to the US, calling it racist and an aid to terrorism.

The comments in Egyptian media are in spite of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s staunch friendship with the US president.

Egypt has started enforcing Trump’s ban with some US visa-holding passengers being stopped at Cairo International Airport, according to reports.

Trump is currently facing a legal battle after the travel ban was declared unconstitutional by federal judges.

Sisi supporters in Egypt were vociferous supporters of Trump’s campaign for the US presidency, seeing former US secretary of state and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as a support of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Could Egypt be next?

However since President Trump announced his executive order in late January, many leading Sisi loyalists have expressed fear that Egypt could be included in the travel ban.

Khaled Salah, who runs the influential daily Youm7, said in an interview on Egyptian TV: “Egypt may be one of the countries banned from entry to the United States, as well as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan… There are American statements proving this.”

Trump’s chief-of-staff Reince Priebus has stated that the ban order against seven Muslim majority countries could be extended to other states. He told NBC’s Meet the Press in late January: “Perhaps other countries needed to be added to an executive order going forward”, and mentioned countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Egypt.

The Youm7 editor said the ban would promote terrorism while blocking legitimate travellers going to the US. “Imagine intellectuals, citizens, entities or commissions that have always been fighting against terrorism being banned from entering a country… going for treatment, tourism, or education, but they find themselves banned just because they are Muslims,” Salah said.

“The truth is that this approach supports and promotes terrorism and does not lead to a solution,” he said. “This rhetoric promotes racism.”

“We do not want anything from him,” Salah said of Trump. “We just want him to stop the American support for terrorism, but unfortunately, this current approach supports and promotes the terrorism ideology.”

Egyptian members of parliament said the ban was racist, would not help in the war against terror – and event threatened reciprocity.

Ban ‘racist’ says MP

Egyptian MP Ahmed Tantawy told Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm that the ban was racist, and that Trump was still in his “political adolescence phase”.

Tantawy said that the US is a nation of institutions not individuals, and that American pragmatism would overcome Trump’s decisions and decision-making style.

Tariq al-Kholi, an MP and secretary of the foreign affairs committee, agreed with Tantawy.

Priebus’s comments were “dangerous, catastrophic, and a terrible mistake that should be reviewed,” he said.

Al-Kholi stressed that Egypt was willing to use any and all diplomatic options in response – including “reciprocity”.

In a statement reported by Youm7, al-Kholi said that a parliamentary delegation scheduled to travel to the US in the coming months would examine its options in the event of Egypt being banned.

According to the high-ranking MP, these range from cancelling the visit in protest to using diplomacy to convince the American side that they need to refrain from such a decision.

Al-Kholi added that Trump’s decision was similar to collective punishment and treating Muslim nations as outcasts, even though extremism and terrorism exists in all religions and all countries.

He also drew attention to the fact that Trump previously said that terrorism was created by Obama, leading al-Kholi to ask why Trump was punishing people for something created by the US.

“This dangerous decision should be reconsidered, and there should be a separation between fighting terrorism and treating people,” al-Kholi said.

Sisi discussed fighting terrorism and extremism with Trump in a telephone call last month.

Trump-Sisi alliance

Sisi was the first leader from the Arab world to congratulate Trump after his election victory.

Trump told Sisi he appreciates the difficulties faced by Egypt in its “war on terror” and affirmed his administration’s commitment to supporting the country.

Trump met with Sisi in New York last September at the United Nations, the first time a Republican presidential candidate had met a leader from the Muslim world.

Trump told Sisi that “under a Trump administration, the United States of America will be a loyal friend, not simply an ally, that Egypt can count on”.

Sisi came to power after staging a military coup against Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi, who hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood.

The former defence minister’s harsh crackdown against the group and its supporters led to the killing of hundreds of unarmed protesters, and the jailing of thousands.

On 14 August 2013, security forces violently dispersed protests at Rabaa square, the focal point of pro-democracy protests during the crisis.

More than 1,150 people were killed across Egypt – 817 in Rabaa alone – in what Human Rights Watch has called the “worst single-day killing of protesters in modern history”.

Obama briefly suspended arms sales to Egypt in response, and though he later reversed that decision, relations between the now former US president and Cairo did not recover.