Pence Leaves Government Shutdown to Talk ISIS and Jerusalem With Egypt

Despite Congress and President Donald Trump's failure to stop a federal shutdown Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence flew to Egypt for talks on security and extremism.

He traveled to Cairo to meet Trump's counterpart Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for talks about the continuing battle with Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and Trump's recent decision to order the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that angered the Arab world.

The pair are expected to talk about security cooperation as the fight to quell radical Islamist groups in the Middle East goes on. Egypt is the second-biggest recipient of U.S. aid and Sisi has developed a positive relationship with Trump after his predecessor Barack Obama froze military aid to Egypt over the coup Sisi led to overthrow Muslim Brotherhood leader and Egpyt's first democratically-elected leader Mohamed Morsi who remains in prison.

Pence is on a four-day visit to the Middle East: After meeting Sisi, he will travel to Jordan on Saturday and then onto Israel on Sunday. He is not expected to meet any Palestinian officials, as they have refused to talk with him after Trump's decision to change decades of U.S. policy in favor of Israel. 

Egypt's Muslim and Orthodox Christian leaders have also refused to meet with Pence because of the Jerusalem decision.

The move is controversial because the Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the capital of any future state, and the city is host to some of the holiest shrines in Islam and Judaism. These include the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, which Muslims consider to be the third-holiest landmark in Islam, behind Mecca and Medina.

It is also known as the Temple Mount to Jews, one of the holiest places in Judaism and the site of two biblical Temples. Jews cannot pray at the site and it is controlled by a Palestinian-Jordanian waqf, or Islamic trust.

Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and the majority of the international community recognizes the territory as occupied.

The Egyptian public is vehemently opposed to Israel. Subsequently, Cairo maintains diplomatic and security ties with Israel in secret because of the negative ramifications on public opinion. Sisi has vowed to help Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the issue of Jerusalem.

Sisi is running for a second four-year term in the country's March election, and is the favorite to win after cracking down on opposition in the public sphere, including the media, rights groups and opposition factions.

01_20_Pence US Vice President Mike Pence arrives to speak live via video link to the annual 'March for Life' participants and anti-abortion leaders on January 19, 2018 from the White House in Washington,DC. The 45th edition of the rally, which describes itself as 'the world's largest pro-life event,' takes place on the National Mall -- with other scheduled speakers including House Speaker Paul Ryan. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images) Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

Sisi continues to enjoy popular support because of the hard line he is seen to take on the threat of extremism from ISIS and other militant groups.

ISIS's affiliate in the country, known as the Sinai Province, operates in the lawless northern Sinai Peninsula region that borders Israel, claiming responsibility for the deadliest attacks in modern Russian and Egypt history: One was the bombing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula that killed all 224 people on board in October 2015. The other was a massacre of Sufi Muslims at a mosque in the region in November when gunmen mowed down worshippers as they exited the complex.

Join the Discussion