Rights and security in focus as Egypt president visits UK
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is set to hold talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday on security and the Sinai plane crash, as concerns mount it could have been caused by a bomb.
Sisi's visit is his first to Britain since he led the Egyptian army's overthrow of his predecessor Mohamed Morsi and critics have accused Cameron of putting trade interests above human rights.
The leaders plan to discuss "security co-operation between both countries" according to the prime minister's office, as well as the crash of a Russian airliner Airbus A-321 in Egypt's Sinai peninsula.
All 224 people on board, mostly Russian tourists, were killed when the plane bound for Saint Petersburg plummeted to the ground 23 minutes after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday.
On the eve of Sisi's visit, Britain suspended flights to and from the Red Sea resort due to new information that suggested a "significant possibility" the crash was caused by a bomb, according to Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.
Egyptian authorities have played down the possibility of a bomb attack and stressed the need to wait for the results of an international investigation, keen to preserve the country's economically vital tourism sector.
Hammond stressed that the decision to suspend flights was made "very reluctantly," adding: "We have to put the safety and security of British nationals above all other considerations."
Cameron has faced protests and criticism at home ahead of the trip for welcoming Sisi, who has crushed opposition in Egypt and jailed thousands of people, from Islamist Muslim Brotherhood supporters to secularists and leftists.
The leader of Britain's main Labour opposition party Jeremy Corbyn slammed the visit and British military support for Sisi.
"David Cameron's invitation to Britain of the Egyptian president and coup leader Abdel Fatah al-Sisi shows contempt for human and democratic rights and threatens, rather than protects, Britain's national security," Corbyn said.
"Rather than rolling out the red carpet to President Sisi, the prime minister should suspend arms exports to Egypt until democratic and civil rights are restored."
A crowd of 200 people holding banners reading "stop the repression in Egypt" and "Sisi not welcome" protested outside Cameron's office on the eve of the visit, and more demonstrations are planned for Thursday.
"Cameron has shifted priorities from the rules of democracy and the human rights to trade and investment," Farouk Messahel, from the Birmingham Egyptians Group, told AFP.
A spokesman for Cameron defended the government's stance, saying it was important to discuss issues of "mutual interest" with Sisi, such as combatting terrorism in Egypt and building stability in Libya.
"The stronger our working relationship, the more able we are to have the necessary and frank discussions about the issues on which we disagree," the spokesman said.
© 2015 AFP