Antony Blinken
Antony BlinkenReuters

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday called for Egypt to free political prisoners as leaders prepare to visit for the global climate summit, AFP reported.

Rights groups estimate that some 60,000 political prisoners are behind bars in Egypt, which starting next week will welcome more than 90 world leaders including President Joe Biden for COP27.

In a call with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Blinken discussed climate and said that US-Egypt cooperation "is strengthened by tangible progress on human rights," the State Department said, according to AFP.

Blinken "welcomed the reported releases over the preceding months of significant numbers of political detainees, and voiced support for additional such pardons and releases, as well as for steps to strengthen due process of law and protections for fundamental freedoms for all," it said.

The statement did not list specific cases but pressure has risen for intervention to free Alaa Abdel Fattah, a prominent dissident who has started a hunger strike and whose family has warned he could die if he is not released during the climate summit.

A major figure in the 2011 revolt that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak, Abdel Fattah is serving a five-year sentence for "broadcasting false news," having already spent much of the past decade behind bars.

The US in recent years has withheld assistance to Egypt over human rights issues. In September, officials said that the Biden administration would withhold $130 million in assistance to Egypt over its failure to meet certain human rights requirements.

The US has provided Egypt $1.3 billion in military aid annually, of which $300 million is attached to certain conditions.

Earlier this year, the Biden administration cancelled $130 million in military aid to Egypt, saying it had not met the conditions to receive the financing.

US-Egypt ties were strained under the Obama administration, which suspended American military aid to Egypt following the 2013 ouster of former Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, before releasing it two years later.

Following the election of Donald Trump, however, ties improved. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi praised Trump after his election and said he expected greater engagement in the Middle East from his administration.

In 2021, Biden's administration called Egypt a "constructive" defense partner despite concerns on human rights.