Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi
What Trump said about him: “We agree on so many things. I just want to let everybody know in case there was any doubt that we are very much behind President el-Sisi. He’s done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation. We are very much behind Egypt and the people of Egypt. The United States has, believe me, backing, and we have strong backing.”
When: April 2017
Context: Sisi, who seized power in a coup, has cracked down in Egypt, where a brief flirtation with democracy during the Arab Spring resulted in a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government (which Sisi ousted). The U.S. State Department says the most serious human-rights problems there involve “excessive use of force by security forces, deficiencies in due process, and the suppression of civil liberties.” Human Rights Watch says Sisi’s government “maintained its zero-tolerance policy towards dissent… and [continued] near-absolute impunity for abuses by security forces under the pretext of fighting ‘terrorism.’”
Trump’s fondness for authoritarians may have more to do with how power is wielded than those who exercise it. It just so happens that Western governments have, for the past seven decades, mostly adhered to a system of the rule of law, which empowers institutions rather than individuals. Trump’s apparent preference is for a system in which one individual, presumably him, wields that power.
Indeed, his fondness for strongmen and dictators isn’t limited to Xi Jinping or any other individual in power now. He has praised Iraq’s Saddam Hussein (while also criticizing him as “a bad guy”) for killing terrorists. “He did that so good,” Trump said in July 2016. “They didn’t read them the rights. They didn’t talk. They were terrorists. Over.”
Trump also said in 2016 that Libya would be better off “if [Moammar] Gaddafi were in charge right now.” He once tweeted a quote from Benito Mussolini, the Italian fascist leader, and later defended the tweet, saying: “Mussolini was Mussolini ... It’s a very good quote. It’s a very interesting quote... what difference does it make whether it’s Mussolini or somebody else?”
Trump even said China’s brutal crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989 “shows you the power of strength,” contrasting the Communist Party’s action with the United States, which he said “is right now perceived as weak.” Trump made those comments in 1990. When asked about the remarks during the presidential debate in 2016, Trump defended himself and appeared to take the Chinese Communist Party’s view of the events at Tiananmen. He dismissed the deadly military response as a “riot.”