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John Kerry makes first Egypt visit since Sisi inauguration

John Kerry with the Egyptian foreign minister, Sameh Shoukri, in Cairo. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

John Kerry arrived in Egypt on Sunday, the highest-ranking US official to visit since President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi came to power.

The secretary of state will meet Sisi to press him to install greater political freedoms and to discuss security challenges.

Since the Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was toppled in July 2013, a government crackdown on Morsi’s supporters has left more than 1,400 people dead in street clashes and at least 15,000 jailed. On Saturday an Egyptian court confirmed death sentences for more than 180 Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood chief Mohamed Badie, after a speedy mass trial.

Sisi won 97% of the vote in elections last month. Last week a new Egyptian cabinet was sworn in led by the prime minister, Ibrahim Mahlab.

Kerry will also meet the new foreign minister, Sameh Shoukri, a former ambassador to Washington. The trip will last only a few hours before Kerry heads to Amman, Jordan.

“There’s a strong desire on the part of the United States for this transition to succeed,” a senior state department official told reporters travelling with Kerry. “We have a longstanding relationship … that’s built on several different pillars. It’s at a difficult juncture right now, that’s true, and we have serious concerns about the political environment.”

Washington has repeatedly called on Sisi and Egypt’s military leaders to put the country back on the road to democracy and fulfil the promise of its revolution. The official said concerns included a new law controlling demonstrations, “the lack of space for dissent, mass trials and death sentences”.

“We are concerned that some of the tactics they’re using to address their security issues are polarising … they in some ways radicalise certain aspects of Egyptian society in ways that are not supportive of overall stability,” the official said.

In a sign of Washington’s unease over the path being taken by Egyptian leaders, no top US cabinet members attended Sisi’s inauguration this month.

Kerry will insist in his meetings that the US still needs to see a return to the rule of law if US-Egypt ties are to improve. “Because it’s a complicated relationship and we are balancing different interests … we felt like this was an appropriate time … for the secretary to come here to explore those shared interests,” the official said.

Source:The Guardian

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