Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has begun a state visit to Germany amid controversy over his country's human rights record.

Sisi met with German President Joachim Gauck at his official residence, Bellevue Castle, in Berlin and will later hold talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

He will also meet corporate leaders at a business conference on Thursday.

Earlier this month, Parliament Speaker Norbert Lammert rescinded an invitation to meet with Sisi, citing Egypt's human rights record.

A statement from Lammert's office on May 19 read: "Despite expectations from Egypt to schedule a date for the long-awaited parliamentary elections, what we are witnessing in recent months is systematic persecution of opposition groups, mass arrests, convictions to lengthy prison terms and an incredible number of death sentences, which include former parliament speaker al-Katatni.

"Given this situation, which contributes neither to domestic peace nor to the democratisation of the country, Lammert sees for the time being no ground for a meeting with President el-Sisi."

Earlier this month, the German parliamentary speaker rescinded an invitation to meet with Sisi (pictured), citing Egypt's human rights record [AP]

Sisi's office says the Egyptian leader is in Germany to boost economic, military and security cooperation, and highlighted the $4.8bn in bilateral trade between the two countries last year.

Germany's Siemens company has made the largest single commitment so far to Egypt under Sisi's year-long rule - an $11bn agreement to build power plants.

On Tuesday, human rights groups had urged Merkel to link closer ties to Egypt to address pervasive violations.

"Germany should continue to freeze transfers of arms and security-related items that can be used for repression until Egypt investigates and brings to justice the security forces responsible for unlawful killings of hundreds of protesters," read a joint letter by five groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

But with much of the Middle East plunged into violent chaos in the years since the Arab Spring uprisings, Western nations have once again come to see many of the region's leaders who have been criticised for rights violations as partners for stability.

"Merkel probably doesn't have a lot of sympathy for Sisi, but she is enough into realpolitik to just go along and not stir up things too much," said Kristian Brakel, a Middle East expert at Germany's Council for Foreign Relations.

"We have seen her deal with a lot of political leaders [with] whom she actually harbours no sympathies at all, so I don't see how it would be different with Sisi," Brakel said.

'Regime is scared'

A plane carrying more than 140 Sisi supporters, including celebrities, had departed early on Tuesday for Berlin ahead of his visit.

But human rights activist Mohammed Lotfy, who was due to speak before Germany's parliament, said he was banned from travelling at the airport and had his passport confiscated.

"What is more concerning is that the regime is scared of even one person going out to speak critically. That is a sign of how frail the state is," Lotfy said.

Since ousting the democratically elected Mohamed Morsi in 2013, the military-backed government has waged a sweeping crackdown on his supporters and jailed secular activists for taking part in unauthorised street protests.

Those jailed include some of the leading secular and left-wing activists behind the 2011 uprising.

Source: Agencies