By Hamza Hendawi
US President Joe Biden has called Egyptian leader Abdel Fatah El Sisi for the second time in four days, reviewing a wide range of regional and bilateral issues and ushering in a new chapter in relations between Cairo and a democratic White House.
Mr Biden had not had direct contact with Egypt’s general-turned-president until last Thursday when he called the Egyptian leader for the first time since he took office in January to thank him for his government’s efforts to end the violence between Israel and the militant Palestinian Hamas group.
Improved relations with the United States come at a time when Cairo desperately needed Washington to be actively engaged in its long-running dispute with Ethiopia over a Nile dam being built by Addis Ababa that the Egyptians fear would significantly cut its vital share of the river’s waters.
Egypt also needs US support for its efforts to cement the May 11 Israel-Hamas ceasefire, rebuild the Gaza Strip and bring the two foes to a longer truce.
Michael W. Hanna, director of the US programme at International Crisis Group, said it will be weeks or months before anyone can tell with certainty whether the Biden calls usher in a shift in relations or are born out of necessity to ensure the Israel-Hamas ceasefire holds.
"Still, from Egypt's perspective, the calls are very encouraging given that it was not lost on anyone that not calling President El Sisi was a deliberate snub," Mr Hanna told The National from New York. "Washington is changing tack with Egypt, at least in regard to the situation in Gaza. For its part, Egypt is playing up the calls, trying its best to highlight its regional role and the closeness of its working relationship with the United States"
Mr El Sisi could not hide his satisfaction with the quick improvement in his relations with the American leader, using floral Arabic to lavishly praise him in a Facebook post.
“I was delighted with my lengthy conversation with His Excellency President Biden who showed understanding, candidness and credibility in all topics of relevance to the two nations and the region,” wrote the Egyptian leader.
“I would like to emphasise that President Biden possesses an insightful vision and an exceptional expertise defined by realism on all issues, including bilateral relations.
“I find him to be very capable, given his experience and wisdom, to come up with solutions to all problems and challenges in the region and the entire world.”
A White House statement echoed one from the Egyptian presidency on the substance of the two leaders’ telephone conversation, saying the two discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the dispute over the Ethiopian dam and efforts to end Libya’s decade-long civil war.
“President Biden acknowledged Egypt’s concerns about access to Nile river waters and underscored the US interest in achieving a diplomatic resolution that meets the legitimate needs of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia,” said the White House.
The Egyptian statement suggested a stronger US stand on the dam dispute.
“President Biden has clarified that Washington fully appreciated the extreme importance of this issue to the people of Egypt. He noted his resolve to make an effort to secure Egypt’s water security,” it said.
Egypt and the United States have been close allies since Cairo signed a US-sponsored peace treaty with Israel in 1979. It has since been rewarded with billions of dollars in US economic and military aid. The two nations have also forged close security and military ties.
Mr Biden’s democratic administration, however, has been critical of Egypt’s human rights record and its procurement of Russian arms. While Mr El Sisi never publicly responded to the criticism, local media loyal to his government has for months vilified the Biden administration for what it termed its double standards on human rights, pro-Israel policies and even outright animosity toward Egypt.
During the months of tension, however, it was business as usual between the two nations when it came to military ties, with Washington setting aside its reservations earlier this year to approve the sale of nearly $200 million worth of missiles for use by the Egyptian navy’s fast crafts. US warships also continued to sail through the Suez Canal and its military aircraft fly through its air space.