As President Trump prepares to have a warm welcome for Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Tuesday for the second time at the White House, rights groups say they are intensifying their efforts to lobby members of Congress for a less friendly visit.
Egyptian officials are hailing the meeting, which came at the invitation of the US administration, as a high mark for a new era of relations between the two countries.
“President Sisi has been able to restore Egyptian-American relations to their former political and economic prosperity,” said Ashraf Osman, an influential member of Egypt’s parliament.
The meeting on Tuesday will focus on building the “robust military, economic and counterterrorism cooperation” between Washington and Cairo, the White House said.
But the meeting this week is not without controversy.
Human rights groups have accused the Egyptian regime of carrying out widespread and systematic torture of political prisoners, silencing dissidents and using death sentences to settle scores. Sisi’s government has vehemently denied the allegations.
But rights groups continue to raise Cairo’s dismal human rights record as an issue that congressmen should take into account when officials meet Sisi this week. It’s a topic Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notably did not mention during his last visit to Cairo earlier this year .
Amnesty International along with Egyptians Abroad For Democracy Worldwide have been working for the last year in a joint effort to lobby Congress to “oppose the death penalty in Egypt and to improve human rights,” according to documents shared with CNN.
The groups are also lobbying to make $1.3 billion of military aid this year conditional on improving human rights in Egypt.
The State Department has sought the same amount in foreign military financing for Egypt in its 2020 budget request, indicating that the administration wants to keep business as usual with Cairo. Egypt is the second largest recipient of US foreign military aid.
Last year, the Trump administration released $195 million in military aid to Egypt which had been temporarily withheld due to concerns over the country’s human rights record. The State Department cited “steps” taken by Cairo in response to “specific U.S. concerns” when the funds were released.
But rights groups continue to lobby Congress to make the annual military aid conditional on Egypt achieving certain democratic benchmarks. However, the White House has so far avoided such conditions by pressuring Congress to include a “national security waiver” on the aid legislation.
Amnesty and Egyptians Abroad for Democracy Worldwide have a letter that is circulating Congress to encourage members “to consider the executions and human rights in their discussion on US financial aid to Egypt,” Amnesty International’s Egypt Country Specialist, Geoffrey Mock said.
But President Trump is likely to ignore those efforts as he holds talks with Sisi this week – their sixth meeting since 2016, according a report released by Egypt’s presidency.
Trump is not expected to mention controversial constitutional amendments, including an extension to Egyptian presidential terms that could see Sisi remain in office until 2034.
The two leaders are expected to talk about the fight against ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula, and a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to state-run Ahram Online citing a spokesman to the Egyptian president.