By Simon Lewis and Daphne Psaledakis
WASHINGTON – Top U.S. diplomat Antony Blinken said on Monday that Egypt had more work to do on human rights as he met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry amid calls for Washington to take a tougher stance on the country’s record.
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 and democracy at the center of his foreign policy.
Blinken in September announced the United States would withhold $130 million worth of military aid form 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 the United States and Egypt 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.
A group of experts on Egypt wrote 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.
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.”
“The experience of the last 10 years 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.