A reporter asked Pence before he left Egypt if he raised “human rights issues, press freedom issues or LGBT rights issues with” Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
“We talked about the importance of respecting diversity in communities; the importance of respecting religious diversity in communities,” Pence told the reporter at Cairo International Airport. ” And encompassed in that is human rights of all the people of Egypt.”
Pence met with el-Sisi less than a month after the so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack outside a church in a Cairo suburb that left eight Coptic Christians dead. Militants with an ISIS last November killed more than 300 people at a mosque in the town of Bir al-Abed that is located in the northern Sinai Peninsula.
“I must tell you that President al-Sisi said to me again that his dedication is to all of the people of Egypt,” Pence told reporters. “And he has an aspiration to continue to move this country toward a greater respect for the rich diversity of all of its people.”
“We encouraged him in that, and told him that the opportunity to build and strengthen the relationship with the people of the United States would be greatly enhanced as he continued to advance those reforms in this country,” he added.
Egypt’s anti-LGBT crackdown continues to spark worldwide criticism.
Police last September arrested seven people who waived a rainbow flag during a Cairo concert that featured Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese rock band with an openly gay lead singer who publicly advocates for LGBT rights. Dozens of LGBT Egyptians have reportedly been arrested since the concert, with many of them undergoing so-called anal tests to determine whether they engaged in same-sex sexual activity.
Lawmakers last October introduced a bill that would criminalize the Egyptian LGBT community. A court earlier this month released two of the seven people who were arrested during the Mashrou’ Leila concert.
Pence was scheduled to travel to Egypt last month, but he postponed the trip because of the vote on a tax bill in Congress.
The federal government shutdown hours after Pence left for Egypt. The vice president is expected to travel to Jordan and Israel before returning to the U.S.
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have urged the Egyptian government to end the crackdown. President Trump has yet to publicly comment on it.
Advocacy groups and more than 70 members of Congress urged Pence to raise the crackdown with el-Sisi and Egyptian officials. Human Rights Campaign Global Director Ty Cobb on Friday in a statement noted Pence’s own record against LGBT rights, which includes Indiana’s controversial religious freedom law that he signed in 2015 when he was the state’s governor.