Deputy spokesperson of the United States State Department Marie Harf said in a press briefing on Monday that Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is leading the country's democratic transition, despite recent criticism by the US of Egypt's human rights record and the US holding some of its aid to Egypt pending democratic reform.
"He is, he is," Harf said in response to a question whether the US views El-Sisi as leading a democratic transition in Egypt, but followed it by saying the country has a long way to go.
On 31 July, Harf had stated the aid was halted due to Egypt using weapons against its people, a statement which drew an angry response from Egypt, describing the allegation as a "figment of her imagination."
Harf said democratic transitions are difficult and take generations to occur. Harf nevertheless called for further steps to be taken by Egypt for political openness.
"What we expect is the process that’s laid out by Egypt’s constitution, that is laid out for how Egypt should be governed, is adhered to, and that the government should take additional steps to allow for dissent, to allow for people to come out in the streets and make their voices heard if they’re doing so peacefully," Harf said.
Egypt has launched a crackdown against the formerly ruling Muslim Brotherhood after president Mohamed Morsi was ousted from power by the military in 2013 following mass protests against him.
El-Sisi declined an invitation to visit the US to attend an African Summit and sent Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab instead, but went on a two-day visit to Russia where he spent much time in discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin, fuelling speculation relations with the US are dwindling.
Harf responded to a question last week about El-Sisi's Russian visit by insisting the Egypt-US relationship is "strong and strategic."
The US has "a strategic relationship with Egypt that is ongoing. But what that means is when we have places where we have overlapping strategic interests, like counterterrorism in the Sinai, we will work together. When we have concerns about what they’ve done, things they’ve done, we will say so publicly and clearly, and also privately. So it is a longstanding relationship" Harf said.
Harf also said Egypt is playing a "crucial" role in maintaining a ceasefire in Gaza.