After criticizing his predecessor’s human rights record, President Donald Trump on Monday refused to publicly condemn widespread human rights abuses in Egypt during a visit from Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
According to White House spokesman Sean Spicer, Trump declined to comment on Egypt’s human rights abuses because such matters are “best discussed privately.”
Last year, during his presidential campaign, Trump hammered then-President Barack Obama for lacking what Trump called the “moral courage” to publicly condemn “systematic violations of human rights” in Egypt.
Describing a 2009 speech Obama delivered in Cairo, Trump argued that “instead of condemning the oppression of women and gays in many Muslim nations, and the systematic violations of human rights, or the financing of global terrorism, President Obama tried to draw an equivalency between our human rights record and theirs.”
Trump’s criticism of Obama’s human rights record was not unwarranted, especially in the case of Egypt. After initially backing a 2012 populist uprising in that country, the United States was silent when the Egyptian military ― led by el-Sissi, then a general ― replaced the democratically elected government in what many scholars describe as a military coup.
Yet Trump’s passion for human rights was nowhere to be seen Monday, amid his elaborate display of camaraderie with el-Sissi in the Oval Office.
There, Trump emphasized what a “great relationship” the United States would have with Egypt, telling el-Sissi, “You have a great friend and ally in the United States, and in me.”
According to human rights groups, more than 40,000 opposition members have been jailed in Egypt since el-Sissi came to power. A 2016 State Department report on human rights in Egypt is rife with accounts of torture, unlawful detention, and abuses by state security forces.
Speaking to reporters Monday, Spicer acknowledged “concerns” about human rights, but said “these are the kinds of [issues] where, I believe, progress is made privately.”