The meeting is an extension of the shift in U.S. policy under Trump. Trump has hosted and praised Sissi — his April visit to the White House was the first by an Egyptian leader in eight years — while President Barack Obama refused to invite him because of concerns about human rights violations. Sissi is seen as more sympathetic to his country’s Christian minority than his predecessors.
About a dozen American evangelical leaders attended the meeting Wednesday at Egypt’s presidential palace. The gathering went on for three hours and touched on matters ranging from terrorism and education to pluralism and human rights, said Johnnie Moore, a California pastor and public affairs executive who participated and serves as a spokesman for Trump’s ad hoc board.
The gathering was covered by Israeli media and was on front pages in Cairo on Thursday. A Thursday news release by the government framed the meeting as reflecting “Egypt’s keenness to strengthen bridges of communication and understanding with various sectors of American society.”
Egypt has ancient Christian communities, including the Copts, who make up the vast majority of the country’s Christians. Protestants are, comparatively, relatively new to the area, with the first major presence coming in the 1800s. Egypt is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, and religious minorities — including Bahais, Shiites, Jews and atheists — report discrimination from the public and private sectors, according to recent international religious freedom reports by the U.S. State Department.