Hundreds gathered outside Downing Street in London on Wednesday (4 November) to protest against the visit of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The president, who launched the toughest crackdown on Islamists in Egypt's modern history after toppling President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, is meeting Prime Minister David Cameron to boost the countries' ties.
The visit has drawn criticism from campaigners and some politicians, with the leader of Britain's main opposition party Jeremy Corbyn saying it showed "contempt for human and democratic rights" and activists urging Cameron to press Sisi on human rights.
A spokesman for Amnesty International said Cameron must use the visit to raise human rights concerns. "President Sisi is ruling with an iron fist. Amnesty is not saying that President Sisi should not come to London, diplomacy means talking to everyone, but leadership means not letting the other guy tell you what to do in your own house," said Amnesty's Egypt researcher Nicholas Piachaud.
"David Cameron needs to show that he's got what it takes to stand up to repressive leaders not just give them a handshake and a grand tour of No.10. That means raising serious human rights concerns including the repressive laws which are putting peaceful protesters behind bars."
In an interview with the BBC, Sisi signalled a possible softening of position towards the Muslim Brotherhood, which he has declared to be a terrorist group. Security forces killed hundreds of Morsi supporters at street protests and thousands of others were arrested. Sisi has said tough security measures were needed to protect Egypt from what he describes as terrorist attacks by militants.
Sisi's visit to London comes soon after a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, when critics said Britain was selling off its assets to a country with a questionable rights record. More than 50 lawmakers signed a motion calling for Sisi's visit to be cancelled.
One protester said he wanted to express his anger at Cameron's decision to host Sisi. "So many of the international organisations, human rights organisations have reported severe violations in Egypt which continue to happen," said Saad Amer, a doctor originally from Egypt.
"Why on earth should this prime minister who leads a democratic country, that promotes values of freedom and human rights, why on earth should he welcome that man in this current age when we are here enjoying the values that we have here and promote them. What sort of message is he giving to the Egyptians. We Egyptians are not happy with this."
Cameron's spokesman has said "no issues will be off the table" when the two leaders meet on Thursday (5 November). But Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, said just welcoming Sisi made a mockery of government claims to be promoting peace and justice in the region. The Egyptian leader told the BBC efforts to improve democracy in Egypt were "a work in progress" which would take time, but his people now had the right to choose their leader.