March 16, 2015 at 9:23 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
State Dept. dodges question on Egyptian LGBT rights record

John Kerry, gay news, Washington Blade, U.S.-Africa Leaders' Summit

A State Department spokesperson on Monday declined to say whether Secretary of State John Kerry raised Egypt’s LGBT rights record with the country’s president during an economic development conference in the Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh. (Photo courtesy of the State Department)

A State Department spokesperson on Monday declined to say whether Secretary of State John Kerry specifically discussed Egypt’s LGBT rights record while attending an economic development conference in the country.

Jen Psaki said in response to the Washington Blade’s question during the State Department’s daily press briefing that Kerry “obviously…raises human rights — it’s all — at every opportunity.”

She did not say whether Kerry during his meetings with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and other officials during the Egypt Economic Development Conference raised the cases of the 26 men who were charged with “debauchery” in December after police raided a Cairo bathhouse and the reported detention of seven “transsexuals” last month.

“I can certainly check on the specificity of the recent reports that you mentioned, whether those were raised in the meeting,” Psaki told the Blade.

A State Department spokesperson on Tuesday told the Blade the agency is “closely tracking developments in Egypt, including recent arrests of LGBT individuals.”

“We condemn any violence or discrimination against individuals based on their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity,” said the spokesperson. “The United States places great importance on the protection and promotion of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender persons around the world.”

Psaki during the press briefing noted that Kerry on March 14 held a press conference in the Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh where the conference took place.

Kerry told reporters he had a “very candid and constructive conversation” with el-Sisi and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry about improving their country’s “business climate.”

“We also discussed the importance of respect for human rights and for Egypt’s security and stability, including a free press, a free speech and assembly, and due process under the law,” said Kerry. “There is no question that Egypt is stronger when all of its citizens have a say and a stake in its future, and that includes a strong and active and independent civil society.”

Kerry during his speech at the conference’s opening plenary on March 13 made a broad reference to human rights.

“The protection of individual rights and impartial administration of justice helps create the conditions for lasting investment and growth that benefits all Egyptians,” he said.

A State Department official in January told the Blade the U.S. welcomed the acquittal of the 26 men who were arrested during the Cairo bathhouse raid.

“We continue to stress the importance of protecting the basic rights of all Egyptians,” said the official.

The U.S. during the 2014 fiscal year gave $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt, with the majority of these funds going to the country’s military. The State Department in January told the Blade that more than $7 billion of this allotment went to “other security assistance programs.”

Psaki on Monday noted to the Blade the U.S. has still “not certified” additional military aid — 20 fighter jets and other hardware — to Egypt it withheld after el-Sisi ousted Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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