Trump's 'Favorite Dictator' Claims Yet Another European Student | Opinion

It's long been said you can judge a man by the friends he keeps and in Donald Trump's case, it is particularly telling.

The US President's cosiness with the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), and Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, is well known, their worst excesses notwithstanding.

He's even called Kim Jong-un a "friend," despite the North Korean dictator being responsible for some of the world's worst human rights abuses.

One of Trump's more serious bromances has been with a leader who's been engaged in a violent crackdown on democracy for the past seven years; the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Trump has variously called him a "great friend," a "great leader" and even "my favourite dictator."

Sisi's reign of terror began when he seized power in Egypt in 2013 in a military coup that overthrew the democratically-elected government of Mohamed Morsi.

Since then almost 2500 people have been sentenced to death, mostly political opponents at mass trials involving hundreds of defendants.

One man sentenced to 15 years behind bars for taking part in anti-government protests was a New York taxi driver, Mustafa Kassem, who died last month after going on hunger strike in jail.

But there was no expression of friendship from President Trump for a man who thought his US citizenship would protect him.

"We have heard nothing from President Trump. No words of sympathy. No concern. No prayers. No condolences," his family said in a statement. "President Trump abandoned Mustafa in life, and he died. Now he is abandoning Mustafa in death. We are extremely disappointed."

And, once again, this week the international spotlight has been turned on the appalling regime of Trump's "favourite dictator."

In Egypt, just being a human rights activist can make you a target for the regime's security services.

According to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, there were 544 cases of disappearance last year—half of whom re-appeared in prison and half whose fate is still unknown.

The family of one student, Patrick Zaky, are desperately waiting for news of the 27-year-old who was detained at Cairo airport last week on suspicion of spreading fake news, misusing social media and inciting protest without permission.

Zaky works for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights as a human rights researcher, but has been away in Italy at the University of Bologna doing a masters degree in gender studies.

He was arrested as he flew back into the country for a family visit and, according to lawyers who later visited him, taken away to be tortured with electric shocks, beaten and questioned about his activism.

As news of his detention spread comparisons were made with the murder of Italian student, Giulio Regini, whose mutilated body was found on a desert road outside Cairo nine days after he went missing in January 2016. He had been beaten, tortured with electric shocks, stabbed and suffered a severe brain haemorrhage.

Regini's injuries were so severe that his parents could only identify him by the "tip of his nose."

Trump's friend's police variously tried to claim he had been in a traffic accident, kidnapped by a criminal gang or even caught up in a lover's tiff—but their lies were met with anger across Italy and the UK, where he had been studying.

Italy later named five members of the Egyptian security services as suspects in the murder of Regini, a student at Cambridge University who had travelled to Cairo to research the country's trade unions, a politically sensitive subject.

And when news of Zaky's detention on February 7th emerged a mural appeared near the Egyptian Embassy in Rome, painted by a local street artist, called Laika.

It showed Regini comforting Zaky, with a speech bubble telling him not to worry, 'this time everything will turn out right'.

Both men are wearing prison uniforms and across the mural in Arabic is the word: "Freedom."

Laika told Italian news agency ANSA what the mural's message, "this time everything will turn out right," was meant to convey.

"This phrase has a double meaning," she said. "It serves to reassure Patrick, but above all to confront the Egyptian government and the international community with their responsibilities.

"We can't let what happened to Giulio Regini and too many others happen again.

"This time it MUST all go OK."

Even though Zaky is Egyptian, the fact that he was studying in Bologna and the memory of Regini's murder has made the Italian authorities sit up and take notice.

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio has been following the case "from the start" and asked the European Union to set up monitoring of Zaky's case via its embassies in Cairo.

On Wednesday, David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, called for Zaky's immediate release and his "safe" return to his family and his studies.

"I would like to remind the Egyptian authorities that the EU's relations with non-Member States are based in respect for human rights and civil rights," he said.

We can only hope that this international scrutiny will mean Zaky is freed at his court appearance on February 22, but it's going to be an anxious wait for his family.

Not much chance of any pressure from President Trump, of course, whose "friends" are united by their history of trampling on those human rights which we all cherish.

"My favourite dictator." I suppose he thinks he's being funny. Try cracking that joke with the families of Regini, Zaky and the 544 people who went missing in Egypt last year.

Anthony Harwood is a former foreign editor of The Daily Mail.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​