Top US diplomat Antony Blinken said Egypt has 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 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 emphasising stability.
The two met ahead of a US-Egypt Strategic Dialogue in Washington, the first talks since President Joe Biden took power, pledging to put human rights at the centre of his foreign policy.
Blinken in September announced the US would withhold $130 million worth of military aid to 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 next month.
On Monday, Blinken credited Egypt for launching a national rights strategy and said both countries are working on reforming pre-trial detention and protecting a free press and free expression in Egypt.
“There are other issues of concern, more areas where positive steps can be taken, not because the US or anyone else is asking, but because it’s in the interest of the Egyptian people,” Blinken said.
The Working Group on Egypt, foreign affairs experts who advocate for more principled US policies toward Egypt, wrote to Blinken urging him to “speak forthrightly about Egypt’s appalling human rights record” and press the Egyptian delegation in 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 opponents.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters the dialogue would include a discussion of specific human rights issues and cases, but gave no details.
“We conveyed to Egypt’s leaders specific steps we urged them to take,” Price said. “These steps are conveyed privately but very clearly.”