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Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Photo: Khaled Desouki/AFP via Getty

The conflict in Gaza gave Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi a leading regional role and made him a key partner for the Biden administration in the region.

Why it matters: While Sisi was Donald Trump's "favorite dictator," President Biden signaled during the campaign that he would push strongmen like Sisi on human rights, and the new administration hardly engaged with Egypt after taking office.

Behind the scenes: The first call between Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry was tough, and the State Department's terse readout focused on human rights.

  • So cold were the initial interactions that Israeli defense officials lobbied their U.S. counterparts not to put too much pressure on Egypt due to its importance in regional security.

But early into the Gaza conflict, the White House realized Egypt was the only player who could mediate a ceasefire, U.S. officials tell me.

  • That conclusion led to calls between national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, as well as Blinken and Shoukry.
  • Eventually, it led Biden to place his first call as president to Sisi, who assured the U.S. president that Egypt could ensure Hamas stopped firing if Israel adopted the ceasefire.

On Monday, Biden called Sisi again to thank him for his efforts to broker the ceasefire.

  • The White House said Biden and Sisi also consulted on the rebuilding process for Gaza (though there was a reference to human rights at the end of the statement).
  • Blinken today became the first member of Biden's Cabinet to visit Cairo, meeting Sisi and Shoukry.

What’s next: During his trip to the region, Blinken has said repeatedly that Egypt will have a key role in the Gaza reconstruction efforts.

Go deeper: How Biden handled the Gaza crisis

Go deeper

May 25, 2021 - World

Blinken in Israel to push for stabilizing Gaza ceasefire

Israeli Chief of State Protocol Gil Haskelas greeting Secretary of State Antony Blinkenas he steps off the plane upon arrival at Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Tuesday. Photo: Alex Brandon/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Tony Blinken landed in Israel on Tuesday, the first stop on his first trip to the Middle East since assuming office.

Why it matters: State Department officials, who are realistic about the current low chances of reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, say the visit will focus on stabilizing the Gaza ceasefire and start discussions on humanitarian aid and reconstruction.

May 25, 2021 - World

U.S. to reopen Jerusalem consulate to engage with Palestinians

Blinken (L) meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Photo: Alex Brandon/POOL/AFP via Getty

Secretary of State Tony Blinken announced on Tuesday that the U.S. would be reopening the Consulate General in Jerusalem that handled relations with the Palestinians but was shut down by the Trump administration.

The state of play: Blinken made the announcement after a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and hours after he had raised the issue with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

White House sets second meeting with Jewish groups

Pro-Israel demonstrators in New York attend a rally denouncing antisemitism and antisemitic attacks. Photo: Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images

The White House is calling a second meeting this week between administration officials and Jewish advocacy groups amid pressure to respond more forcefully after a spike in antisemitic attacks in the U.S.

Driving the news: The virtual meeting set for Wednesday follows a session Monday with representatives from within the White House and other parts of the administration after some criticism for a slow initial response.