Tillerson praises Egypt military during visit but stays quiet on country's human rights record

Tillerson praises Egypt military during visit but stays quiet on country's human rights record
The US envoy voiced his support for fair elections in Egypt, but made no mention of human rights or the political situation during his meeting with President Sisi.
3 min read
13 February, 2018
Secretary of State Tillerson with the Egyptian President in Cairo [Getty]
The US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson applauded the Egyptian military and its mission to defeat IS militants in the Sinai during a speech made with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry during his visit to Cairo on Monday.

Tillerson called Egypt a "steadfast partner" of the US in the fight against extremism, highlighting that the US had given Egypt $1 billion in military aid to fight terrorist threats in the country.

Tillerson also addressed his hopes to expand both political and economic between the two countries.

The US envoy also took the opportunity to voice his country's support for free and fair elections, in a speech that took place in the midst of a presidential election campaign which has seen President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi become the sole contender, as all other credible competitors have withdrawn or been detained.

"We have always advocated for free and fair elections, transparent elections," Tillerson told reporters. 

However, in his later meeting with Sisi, no mention of the elections or human rights was made.

A statement released after their meeting said that the pair had discussed their "shared commitment to fight terrorism" as well as enhancing economic and commercial ties.

When grilled on the human rights situation, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, said reporters should see for themselves "the nature of the current situation in Egypt" and "how the Egyptian people view this administration and its efforts to strengthen and protect human rights and whether there is this sense of restriction that you allude to."

Prior to the trip, a State Department official highlighted "concerns about human rights and civil society" as "a topic of continuing conversation with the Egyptians."

"We have noted our concerns about the reports that Egypt's prosecutor general has launched an investigation into opposition figures ahead of the vote," he added.

During his address after meeting with the foreign secretary, Tillerson also mentioned the pair had discussed the peace process in Syria and Libya, as well as announcing that, "the Trump administration remains committed to achieving a lasting peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians."

Tillerson did not go into further detail on what this entailed.

The US envoy continued his Middle East trip arriving in Kuwait on Tuesday, where he called on allies to keep fighting the Islamic State group during a ministerial meeting of the US-led military coalition that has been fighting IS in Iraq and Syria.

"ISIS is failing but the end of major combat operations does not mean we have achieved the enduring defeat of ISIS," Tillerson said.

"ISIS remains a serious threat to the stability of the region, our homelands and other parts of the globe," he said.

Tillerson added the United States would maintain an "ISIS-focused military presence in Syria" and "continue to train local security forces".

Washington's top envoy is set to visit Jordan to meet King Abdullah II and Lebanon to meet President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

He is then due to head to Turkey for discussions with Washington's NATO ally including on the conflict in Syria.

Agencies contributed to this report