Visiting Cairo, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called for “free and fair” elections in Egypt, avoiding even mild criticism of the upcoming presidential election in the North African state, which is widely seen as a charade to reinstall military-backed President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for another four years.
“We have always advocated for free and fair elections, transparent elections not just in Egypt but in any country,” Tillerson said on Monday in the Egyptian capital at the start of a five-country tour of the Middle East.
The US secretary of state was speaking at a news conference with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry.
Tillerson, however, remained tight-lipped on the Cairo government’s repression campaign, which has jailed, sidelined or threatened Sisi’s challengers over the past month, and promoted widespread opposition calls for a boycott of what is said to be an “absurd” one-man race.
The US official later held private talks with Sisi at the presidential palace.
Facing only one competitor in next month’s presidential vote, the incumbent Egyptian president is expected to easily win the race as almost all candidates quitted at some point under mysterious circumstances, with some citing coercion and threats.
Sisi’s only challenger is Ghad Party chairman Moussa Mostafa Moussa. He was effectively the president’s campaign manager before announcing a last-minute bid to enter the race.
Sisi became president of Egypt in 2014, a year after he led the army to overthrow Egypt’s first democratically-elected president, Mohamed Morsi, in a military coup.
Elsewhere, Tillerson said the two countries agreed to continue “close cooperation on counterterrorism measures.”
The top US diplomat also voiced support for Cairo’s ongoing military operation against Daesh-affiliated militants in the Sinai Peninsula.
Over the past few years, militants belonging to the Velayat Sinai extremist terrorist group have been carrying out anti-government activities and deadly attacks, taking advantage of the turmoil in Egypt that erupted after the ouster of Morsi in July 2013.
The Takfiri group, which is linked to Daesh, has also been targeting members of Egypt’s civilians, security forces and the foreigners visiting the country.
“The US commitment in continuing to support Egypt in its fight against terrorism and bringing security for the Egyptian people is steadfast and will continue,” said Tillerson.
Tillerson said Washington was also keen to continue supporting Egypt in its economic recovery, after the country implemented tough economic reforms tied to a $12 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan.
The Egyptian foreign minister said Cairo and Washington had agreed to hold strategic dialog at the Foreign Ministry level later this year.