President Donald Trump and Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi sat down together at the White House in early April, and it’s as if Barack Obama and the Arab Spring never happened. These two champions of national pride agree that the challenge of killing terrorists should sideline questions of respect for human rights. In contrast to the awkward, complex choreography ahead of the visit by China’s Xi Jinping to Mar-a-Lago or the notably strained body language of the recent meeting with Germany’s Angela Merkel, Trump and al-Sisi looked like old pals. It helps that al-Sisi was the first world leader to congratulate Trump on his win in November.
The Trump presidency looks to be good news for the former general. Trump wants a reliable, like-minded ally in the Middle East, and al-Sisi fits the bill. Al-Sisi likes the fact that he finally has a U.S. President who sees things his way. Obama froze military aid to Egypt for 18 months in 2013 in response to the Egyptian government’s crackdown on dissent. Al-Sisi will be encouraged by Trump’s recent decision to sell F-16s to Bahrain without demands for democratic reform or respect for human rights. He hopes Egypt can expect the same treatment.
Egypt remains the second largest recipient of U.S. military aid, and at a time when Trump wants to reduce foreign assistance, al-Sisi hopes to keep the dollars flowing. Egypt’s President also hopes to persuade Trump to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization and to back down on demands to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. That will be complicated–and in the latter case unlikely–but the relationship will remain strong, because both leaders want it that way.
Not everything is going al-Sisi’s way. Egypt may be more politically stable than some of its neighbors, but it’s not the military and economic power it once was. Inflation has skyrocketed since Egypt devalued its currency in November, and cuts to bread subsidies led to angry protests in March. Egypt’s 6 million state employees, a key part of the government’s support base, have been especially squeezed as their salaries have not risen in line with prices, particularly for food and gas. As al-Sisi becomes less popular, rivals will seek opportunities to challenge him.
For now, however, he remains firmly in control. He will surely win re-election in 2018. Relations with Saudi Arabia have improved, and ties with both Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin boost his confidence.
The Obama presidency and the Arab Spring did happen, and they created demand for Trump and al-Sisi. Now, it’s their time to reshape the U.S.-Egypt alliance.
This appears in the April 17, 2017 issue of TIME.