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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

The tumultuous ties with the U.S. can be traced to the February 2011 revolution that led to the ouster of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. The U.S. abandoned Mubarak’s regime against the wishes of other regional allies, like Israel and Saudi Arabia, in favor of pro-democracy protesters. After elections in Egypt were held, the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power, and the U.S. supported the Brotherhood as part of an attempt to foster democracy in the Middle East amid the so-called Arab Spring.

But the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule was brief, as Egyptians quickly soured on Morsi over his authoritarian stances and push for an Islamist constitution. El-Sisi, who served as defense minister under Morsi, led the coup that overthrew the president.

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“The Obama administration has not gotten over the way he dispatched the so-called democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood,” said Pipes.

Indeed, shortly after El-Sisi started his term as president, the U.S. suspended its $1 billion in annual military and economic aid to Egypt due to the coup.

But while larger problems brew in the Middle East, particularly the emergence of Islamic State, the U.S. has changed its tone on Egypt and has signaled that it will restore foreign aid to the country. Kessler said the approach of the Obama administration and Congress has now “become more pragmatic” and boils down to the past priorities of “stability, protecting the Suez Canal, [the] peace treaty with Israel, and fighting Islamists.”

“El-Sisi provides all these things,” said Kessler.

At the same time, El-Sisi has taken steps to protect Egypt’s beleaguered Christian minority at a time when Christians throughout the Middle East have been driven from their ancient homelands and faced genocide at the hands of Islamic State.

On Jan. 6, El-Sisi made history by becoming the first Egyptian president to attend a Christmas mass. For the most part, Egypt’s Christian minority – comprising about 10 percent of Egypt’s 90 million people – has strongly backed El-Sisi. Egyptian Christians have faced unrelenting attacks by Islamic extremists for years, including a massive wave of Muslim Brotherhood violence in August 2013.

“[El-Sisi’s] visit to the Coptic Cathedral during the Christmas Liturgy was a very nice touch. I greatly appreciate it,” Halim Meawad, co-founder of Coptic Solidarity, a U.S.-based international Coptic Christian human rights organization, told JNS.

Yet even with El-Sisi’s gestures, Egypt’s Christians still live under constant threat. Meawad said more needs to be done to restore dozens of Christian churches, buildings, and homes that were destroyed by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups.

El-Sisi has also taken steps to improve Egypt’s economy, which has been in free-fall since Mubarak’s ouster in 2011.

“Economically, he has touched some sacred cows in Egypt, including reforming subsides, which for years observers said was a political death sentence,” said Kessler.

The political stability brought on by El-Sisi has boosted foreign investors’ and tourists’ confidence in Egypt. The International Monetary Fund predicts the Egyptian economy will grow 3.5 percent this year.

“We have already seen a number of surprises with El-Sisi,” Kessler said. “The speech at Al-Azhar University, the visit to the Coptic Christian cathedral on Christmas Eve, and of course his complete and utter commitment to defeating jihadis in the Sinai Peninsula and firm hand against the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas…. On economics, on combating terrorism and extremism, he has certainly been surprising, and I’d bet my money on more surprises to come.”   JNS

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