US Secretary of State Antony Blinken offered a mixed take on Washington’s relations with Egypt during talks in Cairo on Monday, emphasising the strategic ties binding the two nations but also calling on Cairo to do more on human rights.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Mr Blinken and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi had “reaffirmed their strong commitment to the US-Egypt strategic partnership and co-operation on a range of regional and international challenges”.
He added: “The Secretary commended President El Sisi for Egypt’s important role in promoting stability in the region.”
During a joint news conference with Sameh Shoukry, his Egyptian counterpart, Mr Blinken said the US intended to contribute $600 million to the construction of an underwater telecom cable that would serve Egypt and the Horn of Africa region.
Another $50 million will be given to Egypt to support agriculture in the most populous Arab nation. The countries have also decided to form a joint economic committee to promote co-operation between the two allies.
Egypt has received billions of dollars' worth of US economic and military aid over the past 40-plus years, chiefly as a reward for Cairo’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, Washington’s historically close ally in the region.
Annual US military aid to Egypt currently runs at $1.3 billion.
The two nations also closely co-ordinate counterterrorism efforts and regularly hold joint war games. US warships receive priority in transit through the Suez Canal and Egyptian airspace is routinely accessed by US military aircraft.
Mr Price said Mr Blinken also affirmed Washington’s “solidarity” with Egypt as it grapples with the devastating fallout on its economy from the Russia-Ukraine conflict. He also expressed US support for Egypt’s economic reforms.
“The Secretary and the President discussed efforts to enhance co-operation on economic prosperity for the benefit of the Egyptian and American people. The Secretary also emphasised that the bilateral relationship is strengthened by progress on human rights,” said Mr Price.
On human rights, the senior US official said Egypt had taken “important strides” in the protection of religious freedoms, empowering women and releasing political detainees. Washington, however, will continue to encourage Cairo to do more, including freeing more political detainees and guaranteeing freedom of expression, Mr Blinken said.
At a joint news conference with Mr Shoukry, he said "the concerns that we have remain and in the spirit of candour and the spirit of the partnership we have, we expressed those very clearly".
Mr Blinken arrived in Cairo on Sunday at the start of a three-day regional tour that took him on Monday to Jerusalem. He will later visit the West Bank.
On Sunday he met a group of Egyptian rights activists in Cairo.
Egypt has in recent months released dozens of prominent political prisoners amid steps to address international criticism. However, many others are believed to be still held in pre-trial detention that in some cases lasts for two years or longer.
A national dialogue called by Mr El Sisi in April to chart the country’s political future is in its final preparation stages. A small margin of freedom has also been allowed in recent months, prompting articles by commentators and economists criticising Mr El Sisi’s economic policies.
The Egyptian leader, in office since 2014, has argued that the security situation in the country in the years that followed his ascension to power had left his government no choice but to restrict freedom.
He has repeatedly argued that restricting rights to the freedom of expression and assembly ignores what he says are the important rights to decent housing, education and health care.2023-01-30T16:07:44Z dg43tfdfdgfd