Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi sat at the head of the ornate room, on a chair that seemed slightly bigger than the rest, thronelike. Even through his COVID mask, it was clear he was not smiling.
His visitor, the first envoy from the new Biden administration, was relegated to the side chairs with other members of the U.S. and Egyptian delegations.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken had called on the notorious strongman, a military man whom former President Trump once called his “favorite dictator,” to thank him for helping stop a war between Israel and the militant group Hamas.
It was an awkward position for Blinken. Human rights, he has said repeatedly, are at the core of Biden-era foreign policy — and human rights are not something Sisi regards favorably. He jails and tortures dissidents, journalists and others, activists say, and has been accused of repeatedly ordering deadly fire on peaceful demonstrators.