BEIRUT

Middle East

Kerry presses Sisi to build inclusive Egypt

Kerry with Sisi, whose government is eyeing U.S. military aid as it clamps down on instability. (REUTERS)

CAIRO: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Sunday made the highest-level American visit to Egypt since President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi took office as Washington pressed the former army chief to adopt more moderate policies.

“For Egypt, this is also a moment of high stakes as well as a moment of great opportunity,” Kerry told reporters after meeting Sisi, at the outset of a weeklong trip to the Middle East and Europe.

Kerry said Egyptians want better economic opportunities, greater freedoms, a free press and the rule of law.

“We talked about that today and I think we really found ourselves on a similar page of changes that have yet to be made, promises that have yet to be fulfilled, but of a serious sense of purpose and commitment by both of us to try to help achieve those goals,” he said.

Over the last year, in particular, the U.S. has watched warily as Cairo has outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood, which was ousted from power last July.

U.S. officials cite hard-line policies – including the sentencing of hundreds of people to death in trials lasting only a few hours, and the jailing of journalists – in refusing to fund all of the $1.5 billion in military and economic aid that Washington usually sends to Cairo each year.

The U.S. reluctance has fueled frustration among Egyptians, who accuse the Obama administration of favoring the Muslim Brotherhood and starving Cairo of help at a time when the country’s economy and security are at risk.

Earlier this month, the U.S. quietly agreed to send an estimated $572 million to Egypt in military and security assistance on top of $200 million in economic aid already delivered. But Egypt is still calling for the U.S. to send the rest of its annual $1.5 billion in aid, most of it for the military, which has been suspended until Washington believes Cairo is committed to democracy.

Kerry said he was “confident” Egypt would receive Apache helicopter gunships soon, for anti-terror efforts in the Sinai Peninsula.

“The Apaches will come and they will come very, very soon,” Kerry said at a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri.

“They will be used in a place where Egypt has been working very, very hard in concert with Israel and ... with us in order to push back against these terrorists.”

But an official confirmed that the helicopters remain in storage in the United States.

Officials say they have seen some small encouraging signs that Sisi is prepared to protect Egyptians’ rights. They cite the issuing of tough penalties for sexual assault against women and the freeing of a jailed journalist who works for Al-Jazeera TV.

Kerry said he discussed these issues with Sisi, adding that the president promised reviews of human rights issues and legislation. Kerry also said the Obama administration was working with Congress to sort out differences over the rest of the money designated for Egypt.

“I’m confident that we will be able to ultimately get the full amount of aid,” Kerry said.

The government’s security crackdown has targeted secularists and Brotherhood supporters who have protested against its heavy-handed policies. Some youth leaders who were at the forefront of the 2001 uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak and who also opposed his successor, Mohammad Morsi, are now languishing behind bars, mostly for violating a law that has restricted any public gatherings.

The U.S. wants Sisi to build a more inclusive government, and that largely means lifting the ban on the Brotherhood and allowing it to participate in the political process.

Egypt is also facing a growing jihadist threat in the Sinai Peninsula, where militants are thriving on a flood of heavy weapons easily smuggled from Libya.

The security problems have contributed to a severe slowing of Egypt’s tourism industry that began in early 2011 when a popular uprising overthrew Mubarak, president for three decades.

Hours after the visit, Sisi announced procedures that would pave the way for a parliamentary election to begin before July 18, state television reported.

The report gave no immediate details or dates for the vote itself. The procedures are expected to include the regulations and set the time frame and eligible candidates for the vote.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 23, 2014, on page 1.

Recommended

Advertisement

Comments

Your feedback is important to us!

We invite all our readers to share with us their views and comments about this article.

Disclaimer: Comments submitted by third parties on this site are the sole responsibility of the individual(s) whose content is submitted. The Daily Star accepts no responsibility for the content of comment(s), including, without limitation, any error, omission or inaccuracy therein. Please note that your email address will NOT appear on the site.

comments powered by Disqus
Summary

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Sunday made the highest-level American visit to Egypt since President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi took office as Washington pressed the former army chief to adopt more moderate policies.

Earlier this month, the U.S. quietly agreed to send an estimated $572 million to Egypt in military and security assistance on top of $200 million in economic aid already delivered.

Kerry said he discussed these issues with Sisi, adding that the president promised reviews of human rights issues and legislation. Kerry also said the Obama administration was working with Congress to sort out differences over the rest of the money designated for Egypt.

The U.S. wants Sisi to build a more inclusive government, and that largely means lifting the ban on the Brotherhood and allowing it to participate in the political process.


Advertisement

FOLLOW THIS ARTICLE

Interested in knowing more about this story?

Click here