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Hardline Leaders Congratulate Trump On Presidential Election Victory


World leaders are expressing a mixture of concern and celebration over Donald Trump's election. It's normal for leaders to congratulate a new president. This week, some of the first congratulatory messages came from leaders who are known for committing broad crackdowns on human rights. One was Egypt's president. NPR's Jane Arraf joins us from Cairo.

Hi, Jane.


SHAPIRO: So Egypt's president says he was the first foreign leader to call to congratulate President-elect Trump. Why the rush?

ARRAF: Well, he really seemed to want to make a point. And the point was that he believes that Egypt will be better treated under a Trump administration than it was under Obama. Now, Egypt has not been badly treated by the U.S. by objective standards. It still gets billions of dollars in foreign aid.

But the Egyptian leader really resents the criticism that goes along with that aid. He's been accused of human rights abuses of democratic rollbacks. And he says that he doesn't get nearly enough credit for the fight that he believes he has to fight here against political Islamists and against the Islamic State group. He thinks that might change under Trump.

SHAPIRO: So how much of this is about language, praise or criticism? And how much is about actual U.S. policy towards Egypt?

ARRAF: Well, a lot of it actually is just about language. As you know, authoritarian leaders around the world tend to be fairly thin-skinned. So as soon as they get a president who doesn't criticize them, in their view, incessantly over things like human rights and actually does show some support for the fights that they're fighting at home, that's going to be a real bonus in their view.

But they're also looking for material support as well. They want more money. They will want more weapons. They will want more of everything from the U.S. in what they believe is a shared fight in many ways and without all the questions that have gone along with it as to how they're fighting that fight.

SHAPIRO: Beyond Egypt, there are other controversial leaders who seem happy about Trump's election. What do they have in common?

ARRAF: Well, according to Steven Cook, who I spoke with - he's the senior Middle East fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in D.C. - he says that quite a few of them believe that human rights and democracy aren't going to be really high up on Trump's list of foreign priorities, and that's possibly because it isn't very high up on their list, seemingly.

STEVEN COOK: They have projected a kind of view of Trump - and I think Trump projects this himself of getting down to the real important issues. And those things aren't questions of human rights and democracy but more of security and migration of people and countering extremism.

All those things are very important, but quite obviously, people who are of authoritarians or have authoritarian streaks would like to deal with those things in different ways.

SHAPIRO: So, Jane, who are some of the other leaders in this group we're talking about?

ARRAF: Well, first, of course there is the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. And now Trump has said that the U.S. should let Russia do the fighting in Syria. The problem is of course that Russia is fighting to prop up the Syrian regime that's bombing its own people.

There's the Hungarian president. His government has fenced off its border with Serbia to keep out migrants. And that might sound a little bit familiar. There's the president of the Philippines, who has used obscenities to describe President Obama. He's looking forward to turning a new page.

Now, we don't know, Ari, if this will or how it will add up to changes in U.S. foreign policy. But these are just a few of the leaders who seem to think that Trump will indeed be good news for them.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Jane Arraf speaking with us from Cairo. Thank you, Jane.

ARRAF: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.