US President Donald Trump reportedly referred to his Egyptian counterpart Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi as “my favorite dictator” while waiting for a meeting with him to begin last month at the G-7 summit in France.
According to a report Friday in the Wall Street Journal, numerous American and Egyptian officials were in the room when Trump called out “where’s my favorite dictator?” some of whom heard the question.
The newspaper said those present thought Trump made the comment in jest, but it was nevertheless met with surprise.
It was not clear if Sissi was in the room at the time or the heard remark, the report said. Among the Egyptian officials there were Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Abbas Kamel, the head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service.
Minutes after the comment, Trump touted his personal relationship with Sissi and praised him for doing a “fantastic job with Egypt.” The report also noted that a statement after the meeting from Sissi’s office did not suggest any strain in ties.
Trump first met with Sissi in September 2016 before he was elected president, saying at the time that under him, “the United States of America will be a loyal friend, not simply an ally, that Egypt can count on.”
That comment appeared to be a dig at his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration, which pressed Egypt on human rights and froze military aid to the country after Sissi came to power in a 2013 coup that ousted Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi.
Sissi was the first foreign leader to congratulate Trump on his election victory and visited the White House in April 2017, after having not received an invitation from Barack Obama.
Since becoming Egypt’s leader by deposing the country’s first democratically elected president following the ouster of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Sissi has moved to consolidate his power by cracking down on opposition figures and rights groups. Earlier this year, constitutional amendments were passed allowing him to stay in office until 2030.
Like with Sissi, Trump has been vocal in his praise of other authoritarian leaders, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese leader Xi Jinping and North Korea’s Kim-Jong Un.
Agencies contributed to this report.