WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Top U.S. diplomat Antony Blinken said on Monday that Egypt had more work to do on human rights amid calls for Washington to take a tougher stance on Cairo’s crackdown on political opponents during meetings in with Egyptian officials.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry suggested some resistance to Washington’s push, saying human rights must be balanced with other considerations and emphasizing the importance of stability.
The two met ahead of a U.S.-Egypt Strategic Dialogue in Washington, the first such talks since President Joe Biden took power, pledging to put human rights at the center of his foreign policy.
Blinken in September announced the United States would withhold https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/us-hold-130m-egypts-military-aid-over-human-rights-sources-2021-09-14 $130 million worth of military aid from Egypt until President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government takes action on human rights. Egypt was not invited to Biden’s flagship Summit for Democracy https://www.reuters.com/world/bidens-democracy-summit-problematic-invite-list-casts-shadow-impact-2021-11-07 next month.
On Monday, Blinken credited Egypt for launching a national rights strategy and said the two countries are working together on reforming pre-trial detention and protecting a free press and free expression in Egypt.
“There are also other issues of concern, more areas where positive steps can be taken, not because the United States or anyone else is asking, but because… it’s what’s in the interest of the Egyptian people,” Blinken said.
The Working Group on Egypt, foreign affairs experts who advocate for more principled U.S. policies toward Egypt, wrote https://pomed.org/working-group-on-egypt-letter-to-secretary-blinken-on-u-s-egypt-strategic-dialogue to Blinken on Monday, urging him to “speak forthrightly about Egypt’s appalling human rights record” and press the Egyptian delegation visiting Washington for meaningful improvements.
Sisi, a former general who ousted the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, has overseen a crackdown on dissent that has tightened in recent years, but denies detaining his opponents.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price later told reporters the dialogue would include a discussion of specific human rights issues and cases, but declined to outline those.
“We have conveyed to Egypt’s leaders specific steps we urged them to take,” Price said. “Of course these steps are conveyed privately but also very clearly.”
Speaking alongside Blinken earlier, Shoukry said Egypt under Sisi would “forge our path towards a more democratic state” but that equal attention should be paid to “economic and social rights” alongside “political rights and civil liberties.”
Shoukry also said there was a need for “mutual introspection regarding the challenges faced by our respective societies,” in what seemed to be a reference to internal strife in the United States like the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.
“The experience of the last 10 years (in Egypt) has demonstrated that protecting the social cohesion and territorial integrity of the nation state as well as preserving the stability and efficacy of its institutions is vital in order to fulfill the hopes for change and modernization and to guard against the rise of identity-based politics and sectarian divisions,” he said.
(Reporting by Simon Lewis and Daphne Psaledakis; additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Dan Grebler)