“Economic growth, widely shared, can help to ease any disagreements that characterize the openness of governance,” said Kerry at the opening plenary of the Egypt Economic Development Conference. “At the same time, the protection of individual rights and impartial administration of justice helps create the conditions for lasting investment and growth that benefits all Egyptians.”
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is hosting the three-day conference against increasing concern and outrage over his country’s LGBT rights record.
A court in January acquitted 26 men who were charged with “debauchery” late last year after police raided a Cairo bathhouse. Egyptian police last month reportedly detained seven “transsexuals” who were part of a “network of debauchery in Cairo.”
U.S. participation in conference ‘disgraceful’
Coca Cola International President Ahmet Bozer, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, Lazard CEO Kenneth Jacobs, Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies CEO Shashi Buluswar and Cloudera Chief Technology Officer Amr Awadallah are among those from the U.S., U.K. Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Uganda, Italy, Jordan, Germany, China, Switzerland and Kenya who are scheduled to speak at the gathering.
Former Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, who is now the vice chair of corporate and investment banking at Citigroup, is also scheduled to attend the conference alongside International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde.
“As a U.S. citizen I find it disgraceful that the government is going out of its way to act as salesman for a dictatorship that holds 40,000 political prisoners — dozens, probably hundreds, of LGBT Egyptians among them,” Scott Long, a former Human Rights Watch staffer, told the Washington Blade on Friday.
Citigroup in a statement to the Blade noted it strives “to conduct our business in a manner that supports universal human rights and non-discrimination of any kind.”
The company, along with Coca Cola and General Electric received a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s 2015 Corporate Equality Index that ranks businesses based on their policies towards LGBT employees.
“We respect the sovereignty of governments around the world and believe it is the responsibility of each nation to protect the human rights of its citizens,” Citigroup told the Blade, noting the company operates in more than 100 countries. “We realize that the laws of some countries where we do business differ from some of the global standards of human rights noted above. In such circumstances, we comply with local law and at the same time strive to adhere to our own internal standards, as reflected in our corporate policies, while assessing the most appropriate course of action to promote respect for human rights.”
A General Electric spokesperson on Friday highlighted the company’s support of its LGBT employees in response to the Blade’s request for comment about Immelt’s participation in the conference.
“GE believes that an open and diverse society is essential to attracting investment and contributing to economic prosperity,” said the spokesperson.
The U.S. during the 2014 fiscal year gave $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt, with the majority of it going to the country’s military. The State Department in January told the Blade that more than $7 million of this allotment went to “other security assistance programs.”
Kerry on Friday noted the U.S. has “committed some” $300 million for the Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund that seeks to bolster the country’s economy. He further highlighted the Obama administration has granted another $250 million in loans “to support the development of small and medium-sized businesses.”
Kerry noted Coca Cola, General Electric and other companies have also guaranteed $1 billion in loans to Egypt and invested an additional $500 million to help bolster the country’s economy.
Neither the State Department, Coca Cola, Lazard, Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies or Cloudera returned the Blade’s request for comment.