Melania Trump declared her support for Brett Kavanaugh as she toured Egypt on Saturday, hours before the judge was confirmed to the US supreme court by the Senate and during the first lady’s final stop on her solo tour of Africa.
“I think he’s highly qualified for the supreme court,” she said while visiting the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Sphinx.
However, she told reporters of her husband Donald Trump’s Twitter habits that she doesn’t “always agree with what he tweets”.
“I have my own voice and my opinions, and it’s very important for me that I express what I feel,” she added.
The first lady arrived in Egypt after visiting Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi. While the president has notably in the past referred to African nations as part of a collection of “shithole countries”,he struck a markedly different tone at the United Nations general assembly in New York last month, before Melania’s departure. “We both love Africa. Africa is so beautiful,” he said.
Melania Trump’s choice to appear in Kenya wearing a pith helmet, headwear commonly associated with Britain’s colonial past, caused controversy.
During her one-day excursion to meet Egyptian president Abdel-Fatah al Sisi she also found time to sightsee. In Ghana, she had visited a former slave fort. In Kenya she saw baby elephants and visited orphanages, and in Malawi she visited schools, part of her so-called Be Best campaign, which focuses on child welfare.
Children make up “the growing majority among Egypt’s poor,” according to a recent study by Unicef and Egypt’s national statistics agency Capmas. But child poverty and development were not on the agenda for Melania Trump’s visit. The Trump administration has pushed to cut funding to USAID, which supports several projects the first lady visited.
Egypt has also repeatedly repressed NGO activity, part of a continued crackdown on dissent.
Her meeting with Sisi and his wife, Entissar Amer, did, however, touch on the Egyptian state’s “interest in enhancing the role of women in the society,” according to the president’s office, though without further details. Melania Trump arrived in Egypt a week after Amal Fathy, an actor and former activist, was jailed for two years for publishing a video discussing sexual harassment in Egypt.
“Her husband has been the biggest disgrace to any achievements of the women’s movement, so they might need to turn their attention there first,” said Rabab El Mahdi, a professor of political science at the American University of Cairo, when asked for her reaction to Trump’s visit and her agenda.
“None of [her] positions taken so far even paid lip-service to the degenerating status of freedoms in Egypt, including women or the so-called liberal values that the US is supposed to stand for – these are never mentioned in conversation with Sisi,” said El Mahdi.
Egypt is the second-largest recipient of US military aid, receiving $1.2bn annually. In June, the US released $195m in military aid that was previously withheld by former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, citing human rights concerns.
A leaked memo authored by Tillerson’s successor Mike Pompeo justifies the dispersal of the formerly withheld aid but mentioned at length that “the overall human rights climate in Egypt continues to deteriorate,” including restrictions on peaceful assembly, attacks on LGBTI individuals and limited freedoms of expression.
“It’s likely that including Egypt on the agenda is meant to serve as an expression of Donald Trump’s friendship with President Sisi,” said Timothy Kaldas of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. “Ultimately, like the rest of this trip it has almost certainly proved to be nothing more than a costly and inconsequential series of photo ops.”