Taken together, the moves reinforce the message that Mr. Trump plans to make security cooperation the cornerstone of the American approach to the region, without human rights becoming an obstacle, unlike President George W. Bush, who also emphasized the development of democracy, or Mr. Obama, who pressed autocratic states to ease repression.
“A blank check from President Trump on human rights concerns in Egypt isn’t surprising but it does mean Congress will have to step in and continue using its authorities to limit U.S. support given how serious the scale of repression and abuse is under President Sisi,” said Sarah Margon, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch.
Tom Malinowski, an assistant secretary of state in charge of human rights issues under Mr. Obama, said American aid to Egypt had never translated into the expected support for American policy. “We’ve given Egypt $70 billion over the years, and last I checked there are no Egyptian F-16s helping us fight ISIS over Raqqa or Mosul,” he said. “All we get from the Egyptians is political repression that radicalizes its youth and gives terrorist groups new life.”
As an army general, Mr. Sisi helped lead the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi’s democratically elected government and then won the presidency himself in an election tainted by the wide-scale arrest of opposition figures. Since taking power, Mr. Sisi has targeted Mr. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and others who oppose his government.
The recently released annual State Department human rights report, which Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson chose not to present in person as his predecessors did, criticized Mr. Sisi’s government for suppression of civil liberties and denial of due process. It cited the disappearance of dissidents, harsh prison conditions, torture, arbitrary arrests and killings, harassment of civil society organizations and restrictions on academic freedom, religious liberty and independent media.
Several American citizens figure among the tens of thousands of people jailed under Mr. Sisi, most notably Aya Hjazi, a humanitarian worker arrested in May 2014 on what have been widely viewed as trumped-up charges of trafficking and child abuse.
Human rights groups say the charges are part of a wider crackdown on foreign-funded aid groups in Egypt that has drawn sharp criticism from some quarters in Congress. In December, Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, both Republicans, said they would support new restrictions on aid to Egypt if a proposed new law there restricting aid groups is approved — a measure of the possible limits of Mr. Trump’s embrace of Mr. Sisi.
Both Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama struggled to balance their concerns about domestic conditions in Egypt and the country’s longstanding alliance with the United States. Under the authoritarian rule of the longtime president, Hosni Mubarak, Egypt squelched dissent at home but was a reliable partner to the United States in guaranteeing peace with Israel and fighting terrorist groups, for which it receives about $1.3 billion a year in American military aid.
After deciding to make the promotion of democracy a major theme of his presidency, Mr. Bush kept Mr. Mubarak at a distance and pushed him to release opponents and hold elections, although he made only halting progress and eased up later in his tenure.
When Arab Spring street protests erupted in 2011, Mr. Obama pressed Mr. Mubarak to step down and supported the election that led to Mr. Morsi’s ascension. After Mr. Sisi ousted Mr. Morsi, Mr. Obama refused to call it a military coup but cut off some arms sales in hopes of moderating the resulting crackdown. Ultimately, it yielded no results, so Mr. Obama gave up and lifted the arms freeze, but he changed some financing rules and declined to invite Mr. Sisi to the White House.
At a briefing on Friday, White House officials said Mr. Trump did not consider it constructive to air disputes over human rights publicly. His approach, they said, would be to handle such issues in a more discreet way. In the case of Ms. Hjazi, they said, Mr. Trump’s team aims to address her continued captivity in a way that would maximize the chances of its being resolved. The officials were not allowed to be identified under ground rules set by the White House.
At the same time, the officials said the White House could not commit to maintaining Egypt’s aid package at current levels, citing a continuing budget review. Mr. Trump has proposed deep cuts in the State Department budget, and while officials have said military assistance to Israel will remain untouched, reductions in aid to Egypt are under consideration.
Also on the table is aid to another crucial regional ally, Jordan, whose King Abdullah II will visit the White House next Wednesday. Like Egypt, Jordan has a peace treaty with Israel and has been a vital intelligence partner to the United States. Aid to Jordan has been increased substantially in recent years as it has absorbed hundreds of thousands of refugees from the civil war in neighboring Syria.
Aside from aid, Mr. Trump and Mr. Sisi are likely to discuss the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt has outlawed. Mr. Sisi has lobbied Washington to designate the brotherhood a terrorist organization, which Mr. Obama refused to do. Mr. Trump’s advisers have been debating such a designation since taking office in January, but internal momentum for the move has slowed over concern that it would alienate more moderate Muslims and drive them toward violent groups like Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Shabab.
At their briefing on Friday, the White House officials indicated that no decision had been made to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, but they anticipated Mr. Sisi would raise the matter with the president.
The White House written statement said terrorism posed a major threat to Egypt’s stability. “The United States is fully committed to helping Egypt take the necessary steps to defeat Sinai-based terrorist groups,” it said.
The Washington trip has been keenly anticipated in Egypt, where Mr. Sisi’s supporters see a public handshake in the White House as a symbolic validation of a leader long spurned for his human rights record. A trade delegation is expected to accompany Mr. Sisi on the trip, hoping to attract urgently needed foreign investment.
But privately, Egyptian officials have been alarmed at talk of a cut in American aid, Western officials say, and have lately sought to temper expectations over what the trip can produce in concrete terms.
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