The US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives to Cairo on Saturday ahead of a long-awaited bilateral Strategic Dialogue with Egypt on 2 August.
Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry received a phone call on Thursday from his US counterpart Kerry to discuss the preparations for the dialogue. Kerry’s visit is set to end on Monday, after which he will visit Doha and Qatar to meet with the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
The dialogue is expected to “reaffirm the United States’ longstanding and enduring partnership with Egypt, and will provide a forum to discuss a broad range of political, economic, security, and cultural issues to address issues of importance to each side and further our common values, goals, and interests,” according to a statement from the US Department of State spokesperson John Kirby.
The dialogue is to be co-chaired by Shoukry and Kerry, while Kerry will be accompanied by a delegation that includes his assistant for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour Tom Malinowski.
Malinowski, aside from participating in the dialogue, will meet with members of Egyptian civil society and political parties.
The foreign ministry was not available to comment on the details of the dialogue’s agenda.
Political researcher, specialised in US foreign policy and regional security, Abdel Moeim Said weighed in on the Egypt-US dialogue, highlighting that terrorism and the future of US aid to Egypt will be the main two topics on the agenda of the dialogue.
“All the regional issues will be on the table and the two parties’ vision of how to deal with terrorism and the developments in Syria, Yemen and other conflict zones,” Said told Daily News Egypt.
Said heads the Regional Center for Strategic Studies (RCSS), an independent think tank. He is also the Chairman of Egypt’s largest independent newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, and former head of the state’s largest media organisation Al-Ahram.
Said, having worked closely with former foreign ministers Amr Moussa, Ahmed Abo El-Gheit and Nabil Fahmy, added that a review of the two countries’ relations over the past two years is expected to be discussed in the meetings of the dialogue.
“There will be an attempt to bring around perspectives,” he said.
On Friday, Egypt received eight F-16 fighter jets as part of a $1.3bn US annual military aid package.
The future of the military US aid to Egypt is believed to be a major topic of discussion and Said believes agreements to be reached in the talks will define the shape of the US arms delivered to Egypt.
“The US announced that in 2018 there will be a change in the course of the US foreign military aid to focus mainly on fighting terrorism and the Egyptian army will share its perspective on the type of armament it will receive from the US,” Said added.
The Egyptian arms requests from the US as part of the aid programme have been mainly focusing on “classical war” armament, most notably M1 Abrams tanks and F-16 fighter jets.
The dialogue has long been in the pipeline. It was previously agreed upon in 2013, when interim president Adly Mansour wrote to US President Barack Obama suggesting the strategic dialogue between the two countries. Plans to hold the dialogue in September of that year did not, however, materialise and it was last scheduled for 28-29 July before it was postponed again.
Said believes the wavering relations between the two countries was the reason for the delay. Relations witnessed peak tensions following the overthrowing of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013.
Kerry met with US citizens Mohamed and Hanaa’ Soltan on Thursday in Washington. Mohamed Soltan is the son of prominent Muslim Brotherhood member Salah Soltan. He was released from prison after almost 500 days on hunger strike following a life imprisonment sentence and the waiving of his Egyptian nationality.
The Cairo Criminal Court had sentenced Soltan, alongside 36 other defendants, to life imprisonment, and ratified death sentences against 14 others in the Muslim Brotherhood’s “Operations Room” case on 11 April.
Kerry met with Soltan and his sister and expressed his “happiness to see him out of prison and safely home in America”.
The two discussed Soltan’s experiences in Egypt, the conditions of his detention, according to the state department.
The Secretary reaffirmed: “America’s commitment to promoting respect for human rights and space for civil society as part of our engagement with Egypt.”
It is normal that this file will be brought to the discussion, it is an essential part of the US discussions with all countries not only Egypt,” said Youssry El-Ezabawy a political analyst in Al-Ahram Centre for strategic studies.
El-Ezabawy believes that the discussion on the status of human rights in Egypt and freedom of speech has been over-used and that Egypt is able to deter concerns or accusations.
He also mentioned that the resumption of the US military aid was not conditioned on changes on the Egyptian government’s policies on dealing with internal affairs, a matter he believes indicates the nature of the current relations between the two countries.