U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan discussed securing “tangible and lasting improvements” in human rights with Egypt’s Sisi and other top officials during a visit to Cairo on Wednesday, a senior U.S. official said, according to Reuters.
Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Sullivan also agreed to intensify cooperation over upcoming elections in Libya, and addressed regional issues ranging from the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) to the situation in Tunisia and reconstruction in the Gaza Strip, both sides said.
Egypt’s role brokering a ceasefire in Gaza following 11 days of fighting between Hamas and Israel in May earned it recognition at a time it was struggling to strike a rapport with U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration amid differences on human rights.
The Biden administration said this month it would withhold $130 million worth of military aid to Egypt until Cairo took specific steps on rights. Human rights groups that had called on the U.S. to block $300 in aid expressed disappointment.
On Wednesday, Sullivan reaffirmed Biden’s commitment with Sisi to “a constructive dialogue on human rights”, the senior administration official said.
The delegations discussed “the importance the United States places on securing tangible and lasting improvements in human rights, and in this regard, specific steps in connection with U.S. security assistance for Egypt”, the official added.
A statement from Egypt’s presidency made no mention of human rights.
Under Sisi there has been a far reaching crackdown on political dissent, which activists say has left tens of thousands jailed. Sisi denies there are political prisoners in Egypt and says the state is providing rights by promoting economic and social development.
Sullivan arrived in Cairo after trips to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and was accompanied by Brett McGurk, White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa. Sullivan met in Saudi Arabia with the crown prince as well as Deputy Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman, Interior Minister Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef, National Guard Minister Abdullah bin Bandar, among others.
During talks, the U.S. and Egypt underscored shared visions on issues including “a return to constitutional order in Tunisia, and support for civilian-led transition in Sudan,” the senior administration official said.
Sisi stressed the importance of sticking to a plan to hold elections in Libya in December, according to Egypt’s presidency.
The planned poll is part of a United Nations-led effort to reunify Libya after years of conflict and division, but faces steep challenges.
The United Nations and major foreign powers are all pushing for the elections to go ahead, saying most Libyans want the vote, and inside Libya all major factions are publicly demanding it takes place, whatever their private stance.
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in mid-September denied the existence of human rights violations in Egypt as he announced that the country’s largest prison complex will open soon.
Sisi said in a telephone interview with the “Ninth” program broadcast on Egyptian state television that “there is no doubt that the manifestations of poverty, ignorance, and our culture during the past years led to the existence of wrong practices,” Sisi said.
He added: “It is not right for anyone to offend others, whether through bullying or harassment, because it is a violation of human rights.”
He stressed that it was necessary to have laws within any country “to control the movement of society.”
Sisi announced that the largest prison complex in Egypt will be opened within a few weeks.
“We will bring a full American version that has everything,” the president said.
“A prisoner in the complex will serve his sentence in a humane way. He will have movement, subsistence, and healthy, humanitarian, cultural and reformative care,” he continued.
Sisi’s announcement came shortly after the Biden administration announced it would withhold US$130 million worth of military aid to Egypt until Cairo takes specific steps related to human rights.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the unprecedented move of overriding a congressional check on military aid to Egypt.
Under Trump, Egyptian regime received an exception for the grant on the basis that it was in the best interest for the US’s national security.