Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi defended Egypt's human rights record during a visit to Germany, amid concerns over death sentences handed to dozens of Islamist figures.
"We are keen on lives and on human beings,” El-Sisi said during a joint press conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel Wednesday in Berlin. "We are seeking to foster high human values in the face of tough circumstances."
Hours before El-Sisi left for Germany Tuesday, an Egyptian court said it would announce its final ruling next week on a death sentence recently handed down to former president Mohamed Morsi, who was ousted in 2013 after a year in office.
Since Morsi's overthrow, the government has launched a sustained crackdown mainly targeting Islamists and which has seen thousands jailed and dozens sentenced to death. The campaign comes against the backdrop of a mounting Islamist insurgency that has killed hundreds of police and military personnel.
"The death sentences are mostly issued in absentia, and are then overturned once defendants turn themselves in. Then retrials begin pursuant to both Egyptian and international laws," El-Sisi said.
"[The sentences] are the first step in lengthy prosecution procedures," the president added, hinting that any move to criticise such measures would be premature.
Merkel said she hoped Cairo would move to resolve the issues of the death penalty and human rights abuses, citing them as aspects of a "difference of opinion" between Germany and Egypt.
Merkel nonetheless underlined that Egypt is a key strategic ally in the Middle East.
The German chancellor added that her talks with El-Sisi tackled militant violence in the region and the key role Cairo is playing to combat terrorism.
El-Sisi said that Egypt's efforts to "confront religious fascism" have stopped terrorism from spilling over into the rest of the region.
"We could have been a handful of refugees."
Both leaders also discussed means to boost economic and technological cooperation between Cairo and Berlin.
But pandemonium erupted towards the end of the press conference after a woman yelled, "He is a murderer!" in reference to El-Sisi, amid other shouts of "Down, down with military rule!" El-Sisi supporters responded by yelling, "Long live Egypt!" as the two leaders left the room.
El-Sisi held talks earlier on the day with President Joachim Gauck in the Bellevue Palace in Berlin.
During his two-day visit, the Egyptian leader is scheduled to meet corporate heads at a business conference Thursday.
Dozens of El-Sisi supporters, including celebrities, flew early Tuesday to Berlin ahead of the visit.
But a human rights activist, Mohammed Lotfy, who was due to speak before Germany's parliament, said security officials confiscated his passport and barred him from travelling.
Last month, Parliamentary Speaker Norbert Lammert said he would not meet El-Sisi when he came to Berlin, citing human rights concerns and "a systematic crackdown on opposition groups."