US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel urged Egypt’s Defence Minister Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi to “ensure that international and domestic observers have full access” to the upcoming constitutional referendum, in a phone call on Sunday.
The two sides discussed the importance of the referendum for Egypt’s political transition, a statement by the department’s press secretary said. “Hagel stressed the importance of a transparent referendum in which all Egyptians have the opportunity to cast their vote freely.”
The referendum will be monitored by 47 national and international NGOs including US-based Democracy International (DI), which will have the largest international mission to observe the poll with roughly 90 international observers for 23 of Egypt’s 27 governorates.
This phone call comes two days ahead of the referendum scheduled to be held on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Hagel finally addressed bilateral relations, reaffirming commitment to “strong US-Egyptian relations”.
Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabil Fahmy said in December that Egypt’s relationship with the United States was “troubled, and then began moving in the right direction, especially when US Secretary of State John Kerry last visited Egypt”.
The minister added that the two countries had not yet fully restored relations.
The relationship has been strained since Washington decided in October to suspend the delivery of a considerable portion of large-scale military systems and cash assistance to Egypt pending progress towards a democratically elected civilian government.
However the “Egypt Assistance Reform Act of 2013”, passed on 18 December by a United States Senate committee, granted the US president power to waive the restrictions on the aid, which could allow for the restoration of the entire $1.6bn in US funding to Egypt.
The US has repeatedly expressed its support for Egypt’s roadmap, which came into effect with the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in early July. Despite this support, the US has been critical of many actions taken by the interim government, such as the dispersal of protests, “politicised arrests”, the extension of the state of emergency, and more recently, the controversial Protest Law.