U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was offered only limited commitment from Egypt, after holding talks in Cairo during his tour of the Middle-East in an effort to build a U.S. led anti-ISIS coalition. The secretary met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and several key Egyptian officials last Saturday, while attempting to bolster support for the U.S. campaign. He later stated that Egypt would play a “critical role” in opposing the Islamic State but Egyptian officials are yet to confirm what this “critical role” might be.
Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry also suggested that Egypt had other, more pressing concerns, such as the militant groups that are currently battling Egyptian forces on the Sinai Peninsula. While Egypt has offered limited commitment to Kerry, Shoukry also stressed that Egypt would only fully support an anti-terrorist coalition if it addressed this extremist ideology on an international level.
The Egyptian foreign minister also made specific reference to Libya, Egypt’s neighboring country, where the Egyptian air force has been conducting air strikes against Islamist militant groups. U.S. military officials have since confirmed that in return for Egypt’s support of the anti-ISIS coalition, Egyptian President el-Sisi seeks assurances that Libya, a country torn by civil unrest and threatened by several Islamist militias, will be boosted to the top of the U.S. agenda.
However, Kerry remains positive and confident of Egypt’s support, stating that Egypt would play a central role in the global effort to stabilize the Middle-East and denounce Islamist extremism. The Al-Azhar University in Cairo has already released several statements condemning the Islamic State and its extreme ideology. With Egypt’s population accounting for one-third of the Arab world, the country’s continued support is of vital importance to the U.S. led coalition against the Islamic State, which has now seized large areas of Iraq and Syria.
Kerry’s visit to Egypt comes in the wake of strained U.S.-Egyptian relations, which were put under pressure during the violent suppression of Islamist group “The Muslim Brotherhood” by current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. This crackdown led to several deadly clashes and the mass trial and subsequent death sentence of many brotherhood members, drawing international condemnation and even provoking the U.S. into suspending military aid to Egypt.
The U.S. secretary maintains that the ongoing concern of the United States regarding human rights has been expressed in “frank” discussions with President el-Sisi. Kerry stated that he felt confident these concerns had been heard and understood. He also stressed that while the United States regarded Egypt as a key partner in its fight against the Islamic State, the importance of Egyptian support would not lead the U.S. government to ignore the need for continued human rights.
Despite Egypt’s offer of only limited commitment, Secretary Kerry’s tour of the Middle-East has so far met with success. He held talks with representatives from 10 Arab countries on Thursday, including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and six Gulf States, where he proposed a coordinated military campaign to counter ISIS. Nearly 40 nations have publicly announced their support for a U.S. led coalition. Though the role each nation will play is yet to be determined, Kerry stated that he was “extremely encouraged” by the response of nations inside and outside the Middle-East.
By Mathew Channer