The Cable

Sisi, Xi, and Democracy: The Weekend Behind, the Week Ahead

Catch up on all the top headlines from the weekend.

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President Donald Trump will have not one but two high-profile international guests this week, meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi on Monday and with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday and Friday.

The meeting with el-Sisi is expected to be something of a meeting of the minds — while Trump’s predecessor was critical of the Egyptian president’s human rights record and authoritarian tendencies, Trump embraces both, and has signalled his willingness to work more closely with Cairo to fight Islamist terrorists. And in a budget proposal that sees cuts across the board, especially for foreign aid, continued billion-dollar U.S. subsidies for Egypt’s security forces are sacrosanct.

The meeting with Xi, however, will likely be fraught, since the two have already clashed over issues ranging from the South China Sea and North Korea to climate change, multilateral trade, and the existing international order. The administration has sent plenty of confusing and contradictory signals to Beijing since even before taking office — and this meeting might be the first chance to sort out what the administration’s real China policy is (if there is one.) First, Trump shook decades of Sino-American diplomacy by speaking with Taiwan, then threatened to use force to keep open the South China Sea. Then, the United States backed down and parroted Beijing’s line about “great power relations.” But later, Trump attacked (over Twitter, of course) China’s trade relations with the United States.

In other autocratic leaders’ news: On Saturday, Venezuela’s Supreme Court reversed the ruling that allowed it to assume the role of the country’s opposition-led legislature. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said, “The controversy is over.” Legislative leader Julio Borges seemed to disagree.

“You can’t just pretend to normalize the nation after carrying out a ‘coup,’” he said, referring to the decision last week that would have seen the National Assembly stripped of its power, that brought protesters to the streets of Caracas, and that even the country’s Maduro-friendly attorney general criticized. Whether Maduro can indeed turn things back to “normal” — which, in Venezuela’s case, still implies political repression and scarcity of food and medicine — will play out in the week ahead.

Venezuelans were not alone in protesting this weekend. Dozens were arrested in Moscow for reprising last weekend’s anti-corruption protests — although this week’s protesters denied connection to Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption activist and presidential candidate who called for people to come to the street on March 26, an action for which he received 15 days in prison.

Another clash that took place this weekend pitted two NATO allies against each other. The British government, leery of the full implications of its decision to leave Europe, seemed to indicate it would be willing to war over Gibraltar, a British possession since the early 18th century and a constant irritant for Madrid ever since.

The European Council’s draft guidelines for Brexit said the U.K. and Spain must agree to whatever terms London works out with Brussels, raising the possibility that the Rock could get pulled into the diplomatic tussle. British Defense Minister Sir Michael Fallon has said the U.K. would defend Gibraltar “all the way,” while former Tory leader Michael Howard said Prime Minister Theresa May would show the “same resolve” with respect to Gibraltar that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher showed over the Falkland Islands, which many took to mean, “We’ll go to war over Gibraltar, cheers.” (To be sure, Spain itself fifteen years ago came close to war over a Mediterranean rock. There might be something in the water.)

Photo credit: Rolex Dena Pena – Pool/Getty Images

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