President Donald Trump welcomed the president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, to the White House today, drawing pointed criticism from those who say the meeting validates the Egyptian leader who rose to power following a military ouster of a democratically elected president.

Before the meeting between the heads of state, protesters gathered near the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. to speak out against al-Sisi, including several people, some of whom are Americans, who were jailed by the Egyptian government since al-Sisi assumed power in 2013.

President Trump has spoken highly of al-Sisi before, particularly with regard to his tough stance against political Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The two met last September during the 2016 election, and al-Sisi was the first foreign leader in the world to call Trump and offer his congratulations for winning the election.

The Trump Administration is seeking to improve relations with Egypt following the Obama administration’s sharp criticism of political repression and human rights violations that have occurred under al-Sisi’s leadership. Weapons sales to the Egyptians were curbed, but the pivotal role Egypt plays in U.S. counter terrorism initiatives, such as the fight against ISIS did not permanently damage U.S.-Egyptian relations.

Egyptian government forces have had to contend with a growing insurgency of Islamist rebels in the Sinai region, a movement which began following the instability after the 2011 Arab Spring which ousted longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak from power.

Since 2014, that insurgency has grown to include elements of the Islamic State.

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It’s expected that President Trump will seek to stress the importance of al-Sisi’s cooperating in his number one foreign policy objective: defeating the Islamic State, and advocating a stronger counter terrorism policy in general.

Egypt, the largest Arab country in the world, has played a critical role in American foreign policy objectives in the Middle East for decades. With a struggling Egyptian economy and an unstable domestic terrorism environment, al-Sisi will welcome increased American cooperation and interest.

Image courtesy of Al Jazeera