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In DC, Egypt’s FM tries to walk back Sisi’s professed support for Assad’s army

Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry said in a televised interview with PBS network on Monday that Egypt does not fully support the Syrian army, stressing the need for finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis.

“Let me clarify that the president, when he made statements, wasn’t referring to Syria in particular. He was referring to the fact that we consider it the responsibility of a nation’s national army to fight terrorism,” he said.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said in a recent interview with the Portuguese RTP channel in November that it is important to “support national armies, for example in Libya, in imposing control over Libyan land, deals with extremists and ensuring required stability. The same applies to Syria and to Iraq.” When asked if he meant the national army in Syria, the Syrian army, Sisi answered, “Yes.”

Shoukry’s interview came during his visit to the United States, when he met a number of high-ranking US officials, including Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

Discussing the newly-passed NGO law in Egypt, Shoukry asserted that Egyptian parliamentarians “have their own vision of what they consider to be the best interests of the public.” In response to a question about whether President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi would approve the law, Shoukry said it was passed just before he left for the US. “So I don’t have any information related to what the president’s position on it is,” he added.

The law, approved by parliament on November 29, had not yet been published in the official gazette, as it was awaiting Sisi’s final approval. The law has been subject to widespread local and international criticism over the restrictions it imposes on civil society organizations in Egypt.

Shoukry added that Egypt is looking forward to better relations with the newly elected US administration under the leadership of President-elect Donald Trump. “From what we have heard, President-elect Trump has a clear vision in relation to the conditions and challenges in the Middle East. And there is a lot of common ground in that vision in relation to how we can eradicate terrorism and how we can regain stability in the region,” he asserted.

Shoukry stressed Egypt is not concerned with the extent to which the new US administration focuses on human rights in Egypt, considering the stability of the region, which he said should be the main priority. “But issues of human rights are an integral part of our reform policies, of our new constitution,” he added.

In his response to concerns about Egyptian-American citizen Aya Hegazy, who is currently being detained in Egypt in relation to charges of child abuse, Shoukry said only that Hegazy faces serious charges.

“I think anyone would be interested to get to the bottom of accusations related to minors and abuse. So, I would challenge the issue of ‘bogus accusations.’ And I think it’s important to recognize the impartiality of the Egyptian judicial system,” he said.

Shoukry also rejected criticism concerning Egypt’s crackdown on oppositional groups, journalists and civil society organizations, explaining that no one has been arrested in cases related to freedom of expression, or for practicing any other civil rights. He stressed that all of those who face trials were involved in criminal activities, including protesting without permits and violence during demonstrations, which he said are all punishable according to the country’s Penal Code.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid said in an official statement that Shoukry met with the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Mac Thornberry, on Tuesday to discuss the need to review US military aid to Egypt.

The statement read: “Minister Shoukry affirmed that the military assistance program to Egypt, three decades since its inception, requires further appraisal, as Egypt’s need for such assistance is growing by the day, particularly in light of the efforts exerted in the field of counter-terrorism, providing protection for its citizens and enhancing peace and stability in the Middle East.”

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