Egypt's president visits Britain to discuss terror and trade

By: 
Associated Press

Egypt's president defended counter-terror legislation that has sparked human rights concerns, arguing his country needs stability and time to achieve a democratic future and should not be judged by Western standards.

Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi batted away questions on prisoners and restricted freedoms in a BBC interview aired before his first official visit to Britain on Wednesday. He said his goal was to carry out the will of the people.

"Over the past five years, we have experienced turbulence and revolution. We want some stability," he said. "We don't want to do this by force or suppression. We want to regulate and organize society."

El-Sissi led the July 2013 military ouster of former Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. Since then, the government has waged a sweeping crackdown on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood. Thousands of political detainees are behind bars, and human rights activists say the measures enshrine a permanent state of emergency in Egypt.

"You talk about human rights in Egypt, but what about the millions of Egyptians who face hardship every day? What about their human rights," he said. "Our friends in the West should know that we face monumental problems. ... It's not just a matter of human rights from the Western perspective."

The visit is meant to focus on advancing political and economic cooperation. Britain is Egypt's single largest investor and the trip will include meetings with representatives from British companies to discuss enhanced cooperation in transportation, energy and infrastructure.

Cameron and El-Sissi will also discuss terrorism at a moment of heightened tensions following the crash of a Russian plane over the Sinai. Islamic State militants have claimed they "brought down" the aircraft to avenge those killed as a result of Moscow's recent air campaign in Syria, which is supporting Islamic State group adversary President Bashar Assad.

El-Sissi deemed the claims to be "propaganda" and insisted that Egypt and the Sinai are safe.

But the visit has raised human rights concerns in Britain, and protests are planned by groups such as the Campaign Against Arms Trade, which has called for an end to arms sales to Egypt.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the visit shows contempt for democratic rights and "threatens, rather than protects," Britain's national security.

"Support for dictatorial regimes in the Middle East has been a key factor fueling the spread of terrorism," Corbyn said in a statement. "Rather than rolling out the red carpet to President (El-Sissi) the prime minister should suspend arms exports to Egypt until democratic and civil rights are restored."

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