British Prime Minister David Cameron will receive Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Thursday, a Cameron spokesman said Monday, finally disclosing the date of a controversial official visit announced months ago.
Sisi was invited on June 17 for talks with Cameron, one day after an Egyptian court handed former president Mohamed Morsi a death sentence for "escaping prison" in 2011, during a popular uprising that ended the rule of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
The invitation has since been criticised vocally, with some even calling on Cameron to withdraw it. The day after the invitation was issued, the British government had to defend it.
British Ambassador to Egypt John Casson said Cameron will express his support for Sisi and the reforms that he is carrying out to revive the Egyptian economy, as well as his desire to see more political progress, which is considered the "basis" for long-term stability in Egypt, in an Arabic statement circulated by a British government press centre and posted on the embassy's Facebook page.
Casson said the UK welcomes the election of a new parliament in Egypt. The first phase of elections was completed last month, while the second is due from November 21-23, a poll marked by a high level of youth apathy and an overall low voter turnout.
The ambassador said three topics will be on the agenda of the bilateral talks: fighting terrorism and extremism in Egypt and the region, aiding Egypt to become a "stable and prosperous" democracy, and economic, trade and educational ties.
Sisi and Cameron will be discussing enhancing trade ties, relying on Britain's position as the "largest investor" in Egypt, with over $25 million pumped into the struggling economy since 2010 and on exports between the two countries, which were worth over $1.5 billion last year.
Casson said that as an Arabic and Muslim country, Egypt plays a big role in fighting Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria and fighting "extremism".
The ambassador added Egypt has an important political and strategic role to play in the region in supporting stability and confronting the "growing threat of terrorist groups" and in setting political solutions to crises.
"Egypt is a crucial country in a crucial region and is witnessing crucial timing."
But not everyone is as welcoming and many in the UK are expressing it, some have taken their "concern" over Sisi's visit to the British daily The Guardian.
One letter published last week said, "we believe it [the invite] violates the British values which the government claims to champion to welcome a ruler who has overthrown an elected government and instituted a regime of terror which has thrown back the cause of democracy in Egypt and the wider Middle East many years."
The letter was signed by 55 people including members of British parliament from the Labour, Green and Left Unity parties, as well as journalists, writers and filmmakers.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the party would seek to raise human rights concerns with Sisi. Corbyn was cited by The Guardian as saying earlier that he would not have invited Sisi because of concerns over the use of the death penalty.
Sisi became the president of Egypt in June 2014 after winning presidential elections in a landslide victory, nearly a year after the then-defence minister announced Egypt's roadmap to democracy to the Egyptian nation on state television in July 2013.
The announcement was on the same day that then-president Mohamed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, was removed by the military after protests against his rule.
Sisi has since gained widespread popularity as the Egyptian press, especially the state-run press, championed him as Egypt's "saviour".
By Hend Kortam
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