Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday made the highest-level American visit to Egypt since President Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi took office, as Washington presses the former army chief to adopt more moderate policies.
Economic and security problems are undermining Egypt’s stability, and Kerry’s visit signals an attempt by the Obama administration to thaw a relationship with a longtime Mideast ally that has cooled in recent years during the country’s political turmoil.
“For Egypt, this is also a moment of high stakes as well as a moment of great opportunity,” Kerry told reporters after meeting El-Sisi. Kerry then headed to Jordan as he began a weeklong trip to the Mideast 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, an Islamist political opposition group that 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.